Report: LeBron James would meet with Warriors if they clear max cap space

Dan Feldman
NBC Sports

LeBron James‘ agent, Rich Paul, said the most important thing for LeBron should be winning. Somewhat in jest, I noted, if LeBron were only about winning, he’d sign a minimum contract with the Warriors.

Well…

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

If the Golden State Warriors can create a max salary slot this offseason, the defending NBA champions could position themselves to secure a meeting with LeBron James, league sources told ESPN.

Out of respect for the Warriors’ winning culture, James would listen if Golden State explored ways to clear the necessary cap space, sources said.

Even Golden State stripping its roster to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and convincing Kevin Durant to opt out and re-sign for the room exception – hey, he took a discount before – wouldn’t leave a max slot for LeBron. The Warriors would have to trade Thompson or Green. If the salary cap comes in slightly lower than projected, they might have to trade both.

A sign-and-trade would open more possibilities, but carry significant complications. Any team receiving a player in a sign-and-trade would be hard-capped next season at slightly more than $6 million above the luxury-tax line. That’s no easy fit for Golden State’s massive payroll, especially if it includes LeBron.

LeBron could opt in on condition of a trade, a la Chris Paul last offseason. LeBron’s option-year salary ($35,607,968) is actually slightly higher than his projected max salary in free agency ($35,350,000), though that won’t be determined until the salary cap is set next summer. But that’d mean LeBron goes to Golden State only after backchannel conversations, not being pitched in a formal meeting. If LeBron went to the Warriors that way, tampering accusations would reach unparalleled levels.

Would Cleveland even participate in a sign-and-trade or opt-in-and-trade? Getting Thompson or Green, likely along with Andre Iguodala, would be tempting. Green’s and Dan Gilbert’s Michigan State connections could sway the Cavaliers owner. On the other hand, based on his history and business relationship, Green is probably already recruiting LeBron to the Warriors. It could be tough to send out Green and attract LeBron.

Most likely, though, this is just fantasy.

The Warriors are an all-time great team that lured Durant. They probably wouldn’t want to break that up for LeBron, who’s older than their core players.

LeBron probably doesn’t want to be viewed historically in the same light Durant commonly is now, someone who couldn’t beat ’em so he joined ’em. LeBron’s ego matters. That’s why the max-salary demand remains intact.

So, why do these rumors come out? I believe it’s because LeBron wants to apply pressure to Cleveland. He’s trying to win a title this year, but he clearly doesn’t see everyone in the organization as sharing his commitment.

See the Cavs’ reluctance to trade the Nets pick, which unequivocally can’t help them win this year. The player(s) it’d fetch in a trade might.

The Cavaliers’ solution to this stalemate is to ask LeBron to commit long-term, which he’s not willing to do. His apparent solution is to leak that he could sign with the Lakers or now, with Los Angeles losing steam, the Warriors. The implicit message to Cleveland: Don’t take me for granted.

I can’t rule out LeBron signing with Golden State. At one point, his return to Cleveland seemed far-fetched.

But this seems to be about hyping a technically true sentiment – why not listen to the Warriors, which is all this report said LeBron would do? – in order to serve a larger agenda. That doesn’t make LeBron-to-Golden State itself a serious consideration to anyone involved.

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