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LeBron James waited fairly deep into the NBA offseason to announce his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the news itself has been assumed since he led the team to its first-ever championship in June. The length of his new contract, though, comes as something of a surprise.
James announced his decision to return to Cleveland on Thursday via Uninterrupted, the athlete social media property he co-owns. The message is relatively short and to the point:
LeBron focuses on the passion of Cleveland’s fans and the love he feels for them, apart from a note to management to get a deal done with the still unsigned J.R. Smith. What he didn’t mention is the terms. Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported those details on Twitter:
Conventional wisdom said that James would sign his third-straight two-year deal with a player option for the second season. Such a contract would have allowed him to opt out next summer, when the salary cap will rise to more than $100 million, and ink a new max-level deal worth close to $40 million per season. If his new three-year deal indeed includes no options, then LeBron should be supplanted by Kevin Durant as the league’s most well compensated player when he opts out of his own two-year deal with the Golden State Warriors next summer.
We can only assume that LeBron prefers the long-term security that this contract brings to both him and the franchise. While June’s thrilling championship seemingly solidified the bond between James and the Cavs for years to come, the prospect of continual one-year contracts and ever-escalating luxury tax bills must not have sat well for either party. Cleveland and owner Dan Gilbert will still pay a massive tax for several seasons, but LeBron’s contract at least takes some of the guesswork out of their future plans. It will still be tough for general manager David Griffin to make moves with so many big salaries on the books, but it will be marginally easier to mold this group into a title contender for the foreseeable future.
If that doesn’t happen, James will become a free agent no later than the 2019 offseason, when he will be 34 years old. Most players would be well past their primes at that point in their careers. But we have a sneaking suspicion that plenty of teams would consider it a privilege to pay LeBron a maximum salary three years from now.
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