LeBron James declines player option with Cavaliers, set to become free agent

Kevin Durant guards Le Bron James in the 2018 NBA Finals

Kevin Durant guards Le Bron James in the 2018 NBA Finals

LeBron James will opt out of his Cleveland Cavaliers contract and become an unrestricted free agent, according to reports. The Rockets, for example, were likely hoping for James to opt in so they could facilitate a trade to bring him to Houston with Paul and James Harden.

James would have made $35.6 million playing for the Cavaliers during the 2018-19 season, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Even that was a remote possibility. Instead, general manager Daryl Morey can now turn his attention toward re-signing Paul (will he get the full five-year max?), Capela (given how few teams need centers and/or have cap space, will Houston lowball him?) and Ariza (is he really seeking $50-60 million?).

The decision will make the four-time MVP the headliner of a star-studded free-agent class that includes Paul George, Chris Paul and DeMarcus Cousins, among others.

And while the Cavs remain hopeful he'll stay, there are other teams in the mix for the 33-year-old - and the Los Angeles Lakers appear to be at the top of the list.

"This notion that Dan Gilbert and LeBron James get along so exceptionally well, that's not what I've been hearing", Smith told ESPN. It seems unlikely that James would want to go to Los Angeles to play for a mediocre team with some promising young players like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart - all of whom look like they'll be longtime National Basketball Association players but none of whom look like they'll be franchise centerpieces. His option year for 2019-20 would be worth $38.2 million.

Despite keeping that stretch alive, the Cavaliers were severely overmatched and that further fueled speculation James would elect for free agency. He averaged 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.1 assist in 82 games last season.

The chance to join one of the league's most iconic franchises has an appeal to James, who just completed his 15th season and said following this year's Finals that he remains in "championship mode". Despite the loss, James extended his streak of Finals appearances to an unprecedented nine straight years.

James also said he always felt like he would come back to Cleveland to finish his career where it began. The Warriors lead the series 3-0 with Game 4 on Friday.

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