CLEVELAND (AP) — Before any decision, LeBron James had a discussion with the Cavaliers.
James was in contact with the team when NBA free agency opened on Sunday, a person familiar with the contact told The Associated Press. Shortly after the 12:01 EDT a.m. start, Cavs general manager Koby Altman spoke on the phone to both James and his agent Rich Paul, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussion.
James is an unrestricted free agent and the Cavs are hoping to re-sign the three-time champion, who is weighing whether to change teams for the third time in eight years. James, who was in Los Angeles, is also being pursued by the Lakers, who have enough salary-cap space to sign him and another star player.
While there was a feverish flurry of activity involving big-named players in the opening hour of what has been billed as the Summer of LeBron, James did not announce where he’ll play next season and it’s not known if other moves, such as Paul George staying in Oklahoma City and Chris Paul staying in Houston, have affected his thinking.
James’ discussion with the Cavaliers was first reported by ESPN.
James isn’t expected to drag his choice out over several days. He knows what he wants and he’s very familiar with the Cavaliers after leading them to four straight NBA Finals since returning as a free agent in 2014 following four seasons in Miami. Because they own his “Bird rights” the Cavs can offer James more money than any other team — a five-year, $207 million deal.
But the 33-year-old has interests beyond basketball and the massive Los Angeles market would give him a bigger stage and platform.
The Lakers have a young, talented but inexperienced roster and they were hoping to land both James and possibly George. But the All-Star forward opted to stick with the Thunder and will sign a four-year deal when teams are permitted to finalize contracts on June 6.
George’s choice could sway James to sign a short-term deal with Cleveland, but the Lakers are determined to get their hands on the four-time MVP.
The Cavs, on the other hand, have been mostly operating in the dark. While there had been dialogue between Paul and Altman since the season ended, James had not given the team any sense of his plans. That’s made it tough for Cleveland to upgrade its roster, but the Cavs remain committed to bringing back James even for just one more year.
On Friday, James formally became a free agent when he informed the Cavs he would not exercise his $35.6 million contract option for next season, making him an unrestricted free agent and the prize catch in the 2018 class.
Now that some of the early dust has settled, the battle for him appears to be down to two teams: Cleveland vs. Los Angeles.
Home vs. Hollywood.
Wine-and-gold vs. Purple-and-gold.
But while the Cavs and Lakers appear to be the front-runners for James, the Philadelphia 76ers aren’t ready to give up the fight. Well, at least young and outspoken center Joel Embiid isn’t.
Embiid posted a message on Twitter that seemed to be directed at No. 23 and what it might be like to walk in the footsteps of Lakers legends like Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Shaquille O’Neal.
“The Lakers are FOREVER gonna be Kobe’s and Magic’s team,” Embiid wrote, referring to Kobe Bryant and Johnson. “Process that.”
George’s move has given James more to process, but the chance to restore Los Angeles to prominence may be just what he needs at this point in his career. And while he has long been compared to Michael Jordan, Johnson is the one whose game more closely resembles his own.
For now, though, he’s not attached to anyone.
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