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LeBron James re-signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers felt like a foregone conclusion heading into the offseason.
James, after all, had finally delivered the Cavaliers their first championship, seemed happy in Cleveland, and was just one year off from finally being able to sign a monster, long-term deal with the Cavs.
Yet, almost a month since the NBA Finals concluded and nearly three weeks into free agency, James still hasn’t signed.
It’s not a particularly dramatic free agency – there’s no indication that he’s considering other teams, and ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that James told the Cavs he will re-sign with them. During the Cavs’ championship parade, James actually told reporters he had no plans to leave Cleveland.
So, why such a long wait? The NBA world isn’t totally sure.
Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com wrote on the situation, “It’s unclear why James is taking such a long time this summer.”
Windhorst said on ESPN when asked about the delay, “This may sound like a dumb answer, but I don’t really know.”
The hold-up could come from James weighing a few options, as both Windhorst and Vardon noted. First, there’s the length of the contract. In the past two years, James has signed two-year deals, then opted out after the first year to sign another short deal. Under a rising salary cap, this was a move to increase his yearly salary and to maintain flexibility and put pressure on the Cavs.
It was also a long-term ploy to earn more money down the road. After three years, the Cavs would have James’ full Bird Rights, meaning they could re-sign him the the biggest contract possible – a five-year deal worth 35% of the salary cap, with 7.5% yearly raises. It was believed that James would eventually be able to sign a five-year, $200 million deal.
Yet as USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt reported prior to free agency, a little-known rule in the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement could prevent James from signing a full, five-year max contract next summer. In light of this news, James may be considering whether to sign a long-term deal now or continue to sign short deals. It’s a decision he hasn’t had to consider in the past.
And as Vardon points out, the uncertainty of the NBA’s CBA could be a factor. Both the NBA and the players union can opt out of the CBA this December, setting up an unknown future. Many in the NBA world feel it could, even briefly, lead to a lockout as the two sides re-negotiate a new labor deal. James could be weighing whether to lock up a long-term deal now, or go into next summer as a free agent, when the salary cap rises to an expected $102 million and when the next bargaining agreement could potentially earn him even more money.
However, Windhorst also threw out another possibility for James continuing on his one-year contract path.
“Just for the sake of putting it in the back of your mind,” Windhorst said, “both Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, two guys he would love to play with at some point, are also scheduled to be free agents next summer.” James has explicitly said he would love to team up with Paul, Wade, and Carmelo Anthony one day.
Windhorst initially reported that James has been traveling with his family this summer, and when he returns, will sit down with his agent and the Cavs to hammer out a deal. While he will be back in Cleveland next season, it’s unknown when James will make it official and if he will commit to the team long-term yet.