It's a pretty good time to be LeBron James. Again.
James will reportedly opt out of the final two years of his contract-worth $42.7 million-with the Miami Heat , making the four-time NBA MVP a free agent on July 1. The move does not guarantee that he'll leave Miami, however, which sets up another highly anticipated decision about where he'll play.
For the second time in his career, James will become one of the most pursued free agents in league history. But only a few teams currently hold the cap room to dish out James' potential asking price.
James' payday will be capped at the maximum allowed under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement. Maximum salaries are calculated as a percentage of the league's salary cap for that season, according to NBA Salary Cap FAQ.
As he has played for more than 10 years, James is entitled to the highest maximum salary tier, which would come to $22.12 million under next season's projected $63.2 million salary cap. (The cap won't officially be set until the beginning of July).
If he hadn't opted out of his previous contract with the Heat, James would have made a little more than $20.5 million next year. Even if James re-signs with the Heat, he can ask for more money than he was slated to make.
Team choice won't affect his maximum base salary next season, but if he signs a multiyear contract, the Heat can give him a 7.5 percent raise year-over-year, compared with 4.5 percent for a new team. LeBron can sign a maximum five-year deal with the Heat, but only four years maximum with a new team.
Here's how Lebron's maximum pay will stack up:
Maximum salaries are often used on a hypothetical basis because they're the easiest to calculate, said Scott Allen of sports transactions site Spotrac. James won't necessarily take the maximum salary, though, especially if he negotiates with a team looking to create cap space for another player seeking similar money. For example, James chose not to take maximum money when signing with the Heat so the team had flexibility to sign Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
James will most likely re-sign with the Heat, Allen said. James probably chose to opt out in order to "send a message" to Miami after this year's NBA Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs, he said.
"I believe this Finals put a frustrated damper on him," Allen said.
If James heads back to Miami, he may take less than the maximum salary to clear up space to "refresh" the roster, Allen said. James would re-sign with the Heat expecting a roster overhaul.
Six franchises, including the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks, should hold more than $20 million in salary cap space entering free agency, giving them ample room to sign James to a near-maximum contract.
Among those teams, the Lakers should have the best chance of landing James because "everybody wants to see that happen," Allen said.
Lakers blogger Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times told CNBC that for the Lakers to land James, they would also likely have to sign the second-best free agent on the market, Carmelo Anthony. Pincus said the Lakers signing both Anthony and James is "not impossible, but not likely."
The Sixers are "a dark horse, but not a favorite," as they hold two first-round picks and the potential to build a dynamic roster around James, said Michael Ginnitti, Spotrac's founder.
"They're up there in terms of opportunities," Ginnitti said.
Contenders who are reportedly interested in James, including the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets, would have to unload key players in order to free up enough money to sign him, Pincus said. The Clippers, for example, may not be willing to ship out players such as DeAndre Jordan in order to bring James to L.A.
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Though they also have cap room, the Cleveland Cavaliers-the team James spurned so he could join the Heat in 2010-likely won't lure James back in the near future. Popular speculation has surrounded his re-signing with the Cavaliers, who are building around young star Kyrie Irving.
Unless teams start making moves to clear up cap space, it seems LeBron may stay put. But even if James re-signs with the Heat, Pincus believes his free agency has spiced up what might have been a dull free agent market for the summer.
"It's great for business that he's opting out," Pincus said.
-By Jacob Pramuk, special to CNBC
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- LeBron James