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LeBron James will exercise early termination option in Heat contract, enter free agency

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

NBA.com

Breaking News: LeBron Opts Out

Breaking News: LeBron Opts Out

After his Miami Heat lost the 2014 NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs in five games, LeBron James said he was going to wait until after he'd taken his family on a postseason vacation to turn his attention to the future. One week later, it seems that the four-time Most Valuable Player is ready to get back to business ... and that the first order of business is to get free:

ESPN.com's Chris Broussard first reported that James would exercise his early-termination option.

So, yes: LeBron James is going to be a free agent. Sound the alarms!

By exercising the termination option in his contract, James forgoes a $20,590,000 payday for the 2014-15 season, but instantly becomes the unquestioned prize of the summer's free agent crop. That said, James deciding choosing to opt out isn't surprising in and of itself, and it doesn't necessarily mean LeBron's packing his bags just yet. At this point, all the choice does is create more options for both James and the Heat.

When James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade to form Miami's "Big Three" in the summer of 2010, all three All-Stars signed contracts worth less than the maximum amount they could command on the market in order to allow Heat team president Pat Riley to build a strong, complete team around that scintillating core. The team made four straight trips to the NBA Finals and won two league championships, but found itself overwhelmed by the Spurs this June. The Heat had become utterly dependent on James' scoring, playmaking and defense amid Wade's decline and Bosh's struggles, and were unable to match San Antonio's impressive depth.

James has reportedly expressed reluctance to take another pay cut this offseason without assurances that Miami's brass will use any forsaken funds to augment the roster, rather than make moves to cut costs, like the luxury-tax-bill-winnowing amnesty of key role player Mike Miller before the 2013-14 season. Exercising the ETO not only creates the flexibility for James to entertain other suitors should he so choose, it also puts the onus on Riley, Heat owner Micky Arison and the rest of Miami's front office to put together an attractive, cohesive plan to make it worth James' while to stay.

"I was informed this morning of [James'] intentions," Riley said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. "We fully expected LeBron to opt-out and exercise his free agent rights, so this does not come as a surprise. As I said at the press conference last week, players have a right to free agency and when they have these opportunities, the right to explore their options.

"... We look forward to sitting down with LeBron and his representatives and talking about our future together," he continued. "At the moment, we are preparing for the opportunities in the Draft and Free Agency as we continue with our goal of winning NBA Championships.”

At issue now, of course, is whether Bosh (set to make $20,590,000 next season) and Wade ($20,164,000) will follow suit and exercise their own ETOs. If they do, the Heat will have scads of salary cap space that Riley and company could use to refurbish a roster that, at the moment, features only veteran forward Udonis Haslem (a $4.62 million player option for 2014-15) and reserve point guard Norris Cole (due just over $2 million) and is in desperate need of reinforcements to keep its championship window open.

"We don't need to rebuild," Riley said during an animated season-wrapping press conference last week. "We need to retool. And that's what we're going to do."

By informing the Heat of his decision to opt out, James seems prepared to hold Riley's, and Arison's, feet to the fire. What comes next ought to be fascinating and could very well tilt the balance of power in the NBA for seasons to come.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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