At the urging of LeBron James' agent, the Cleveland Cavaliers are pursuing a maximum contract salary slot to bring back the free-agent superstar, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Rich Paul, the president of Klutch Sports, has been funneling belief into the organization that the Cavaliers are in strong position to lure James from the Miami Heat, sources told Yahoo Sports.
For years, Paul has confided to people that bringing back James to Cleveland has been something of a mission for him, and he's encouraging Cavaliers officials to offer no restraint in the recruitment of James, sources said.
The Phoenix Suns remain determined to make a case to James, offering an excellent core of young players, a chance to bring a second max star with him, but everyone's at the mercy of Paul's agenda now. He's running James' free agency, and getting through to James won't happen without his childhood pal-turned-agent.
Paul will be joining James for a sit-down meeting with Miami president Pat Riley early this week, when there could come more clarity on James' future with the Heat. Riley has been recruiting free agents to join Miami, but has been limited in salary cap space to make competitive offers and limited in the ability to promise players they'll get to play with James.
"LeBron is the ultimate recruiter, but he hasn't been any part of this process," a league source tied to the Heat's recruiting efforts told Yahoo Sports. "The first question they all ask is the same: 'Do I get to hear from LeBron? What's he going to do?' "
The fact James hasn't been contributing to the Heat's pursuit of a supporting cast has troubled some and left them wondering: Just how committed is James to re-joining Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade with the Heat?
For the Cavaliers, the shedding of contracts to create salary-cap space isn't a tremendous risk. For James, a four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion, the stakes are far higher. If Paul gets up the hopes of the franchise and Northeast Ohio without delivering James' return, Paul risks playing a part in turning James into a villain all over again.
Nevertheless, the Cavaliers have little choice but to dutifully make the moves necessary to make James an offer. The biggest obstacle remains unloading the contract of Jarrett Jack. The Cavaliers have found a landing spot for Jack and his $6.2 million annual salary in the Brooklyn Nets, but only if the Cavs can find a third team to take on Brooklyn's Marcus Thornton, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Cleveland is offering Thornton and future draft considerations as incentive to absorb his $8.7 million expiring contract, sources said. The Cavaliers need to unload more contracts and have made 2013 first-round pick Sergey Karasev, among others, available in deals, sources said.
The Cavaliers have a young core of Kyrie Irving and No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, whom general manager David Griffin has gone out of his way to call a shooting guard – clearing the way for James to take over small forward. For Paul, the return of James would give the agent immense leverage in rookie contract extension talks for forward Tristan Thompson. The Cavaliers could have no choice but to pay Thompson – a serviceable young forward – far above market price as a giveback for Paul's part in James' potential return to the Cavaliers.
Cleveland will work to sign James, but, failing that, they'll try to divide the cap space among second-tier free agents – including candidates Channing Frye and Trevor Ariza – whom they believe can help get them to the playoffs, sources said.
Another Cavaliers option remains signing Utah restricted free agent Gordon Hayward to an offer sheet, although the organization expects it would offer him less than a max contract, sources said. Nevertheless, the Jazz plan to match a Cavs offer and keep him, sources said.
For now, the Cavaliers await the next directive out of Rich Paul, and perhaps will soon find out where an agent's agenda meets a superstar's intent.