It's not quite as flashy as a first-person essay for the cover of Sports Illustrated, but hey, this works, too:
LeBron James had agreed to re-sign with the Cavs for one-year at $23 million plus a player option, sources told ESPN
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 9, 2015
Agent Rich Paul tells Cavs today LeBron will sign 2 yr deal with player option for 2nd year. $22.97 million 1st season, $24 mill 2nd year
— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 9, 2015
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As expected, LeBron James will stay put with the Cleveland Cavaliers, agreeing to terms on a two-year maximum-salaried contract worth just under $47 million, with a player option for the 2016-17 season that will enable him to opt out and re-enter unrestricted free agency — just as he did last summer, just as he did this summer, and just as he very well might do for the remainder of his Hall of Fame career.
We covered the reasons why LeBron's year-to-year, "one-plus-one" contract approach makes the most financial sense after he opted out of his 2015-16 deal on June 28. It goes far beyond just ensuring himself a $1.4 million bump next season from the $21.6 million he was scheduled to make next season:
If James decides to go for a carbon copy of the deal he signed last summer — a two-year pact with the first year fully guaranteed and a player option for the second — he opens up the option of re-entering free agency again in the summer of 2016, when the influx of new money from the NBA's massive new nine-year, $24 billion broadcast rights deal inflates the salary cap to a projected $89 million, bumping his first-year max up to an estimated $29.3 million.
If he wants to keep the good times rolling with one-and-one contracts, James could then opt to once again hit the market in 2017, when the cap's expected to hit an unprecedented $108 million, which would push James' '17-'18 max salary up to a whopping $35.5 million. That would be the highest single-season player salary in NBA history, topping Michael Jordan's $33 million deal to play for the Chicago Bulls during the 1997-98 season. And so on, and so on.
James' "wait-and-see" approach to free agency also put the onus on Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and general manager David Griffin to do everything in their power to keep Cleveland in position as the favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in next season's NBA Finals and among the top tier of contenders to hoist the first Larry O'Brien Trophy in franchise history. To a large extent, that meant Griffin splashing Gilbert's cash, which he was all too happy to do as soon as the free agency period opened.
He agreed to an estimated $240 million in deals to bring back power forwards Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson and defensive-minded swingman Iman Shumpert, as well as a two-year, $4.3 million deal to bring back veteran guard Mo Williams, one of James' principal running buddies during his first run in Cleveland. That $245 million or so doesn't factor in the luxury tax payments for which Gilbert will be on the hook now that the Cavs' payroll has soared past the $100 million mark; they will be staggering.
Love and Shumpert inked their deals on Thursday. Thompson's negotiations, however, reportedly reached an impasse after the initial agreement. James was reportedly going to hold off on agreeing to anything until the restricted free agent power forward's deal got done — there he is, exerting that unrivaled influence again — suggesting that the Cavaliers and Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, who represents both James and Thompson, might soon bridge their gap. Then again, USA TODAY's Sam Amick reports that "the Cavs are still expected to come to terms with Thompson," but that despite their inherent tethers, the two deals are being treated as separate cases, and ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin reports that no agreement between Thompson and the Cavaliers is imminent.
However Thompson's negotiation plays out, and even if Love had decided to skip town, securing at least one more season of James in wine and gold would've marked the Cavs as one of the biggest winners of this summer so far.
In what was by his all-time-great standards something of a down year, James ranked third in the NBA in points per game, seventh in assists per game, sixth in assist percentage, 18th in steals per game and sixth in Player Efficiency Rating. With him on the court during the regular season, the Cavaliers outscored their opponents by nearly 10 points per 100 possessions, an elite number that would've been the second-best full-season "net rating" in the league, behind only the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. With him off the court, the Cavs were outscored by nearly seven points-per-100, which would have been the fifth-worst mark in the league, ahead of only the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers — the teams with the four worst records in the NBA last season.
James' remarkable return to Ohio resulted in 53 wins, the Cavaliers' highest total since the 2009-10 season, his final season before leaving for Miami, and nearly as many as they'd won in the previous two seasons combined. He capped the campaign by leading Cleveland to the NBA Finals and absolutely carrying a decimated squad that was missing the injured Love, Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao to a 2-1 lead over Golden State through the sheer force of his will and playmaking talents.
He is, by his estimation and ours, the best basketball player on the planet, and for the second straight summer, he's chosen Cleveland. The news wasn't as revolutionary this time around, but we're betting that doesn't make Ohio sports fans any less psyched about it.
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