Heading into the 2017-18 NBA season, LeBron James held a $35.6 million player option, giving him the possibility of leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency for a second time.
From the Kyrie Irving trade to the inconsistent play during the regular season, James somehow willed his team to the 2018 NBA Finals where they were swept by the Golden State Warriors. Despite the loss, James extended his streak of Finals appearances to an unprecedented nine straight years.
Despite keeping that stretch alive, the Cavaliers were severely overmatched and that further fueled speculation James would elect for free agency.
According to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, James will not exercise his $35.6 million player option for the 2018-19 season:
LeBron James will not exercise the $35.6 million option on his contract with the Cavaliers for next season and will be an unrestricted free agent on Sunday, multiple sources told cleveland.com.
As the Warriors have established themselves as the league’s next dynasty and the Cavaliers are very limited in how they can improve their talent level, the Los Angeles Lakers are among the teams that will pursue the 33-year-old.
Armed with two max-contract slots and a competitive young core, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka are confident in their chances. If James ultimately leaves his hometown for the second time, Los Angeles has emerged as the favorite to land the four-time league MVP.
There was intrigue with James’ decision prior to the start of free agency. If he opted in, it likely signaled a sign-and-trade and a path for teams without cap space to pursue him like the Houston Rockets.
If he opted out, it presumably meant re-signing with the Cavaliers or signing with a team with cap space like the Lakers or Philadelphia 76ers was the likely course of action.
Now that James has taken the first step in his free agency, the Lakers are hoping to end their rebuilding process and become a perennial championship contender. If the future Hall of Famer signs, the likes of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard could eventually join him in Los Angeles and challenge Golden State.
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