LeBron James’ decision this upcoming offseason is widely seen as the first domino that has to fall before anything else can move forward. According to Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, he hasn’t yet decided on whether or not he will even become a free agent at all this summer.
Here’s how they put it (emphasis mine):
James has until Friday to pick up his $35.6 million player option with the Cleveland Cavaliers. While James hasn’t decided yet whether to pick up his player option, sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.
The fact that he might not want elaborate pitch meetings is noteworthy in and of itself, and we covered that earlier Monday morning. But let’s focus on what his stance on his player option might mean, both in terms of for all teams involved in his pursuit but also specifically the Lakers.
First thing’s first, make no mistake about it — LeBron wants his money. There probably will not be any kind of pay cut situation here.
Secondly, opting into his player option means that no matter which team he goes to, his impending free agency will ensure that he continues to rule over said organization (even the Cavaliers) as they wouldn’t want to lose him at the end of next season.
A team like the Houston Rockets would be okay with him opting in as they have the kinds of assets and contract that can make a trade make sense for both sides. The Lakers, conversely, would probably prefer to sign him in free agency as most of their assets outside of Luol Deng (who is by no means an asset) are still on their rookie contracts.
James opting into his player option and then being traded to his preferred destination would slightly help said team as they would also acquire his Bird rights, but given the types of contracts that he typically takes (one year under contract with a player option for the second), the benefits of those Bird rights wouldn’t necessarily come into play.
Here’s how our own Ben Rosales puts it:
I think it does preserve his Bird rights, yes, since CP3 is trying to negotiate a multi-year deal this summer. But it just doesn’t matter for Bron since he only takes 1+1 deals and will presumably continue to do so for the forseeable future. So the point where Bird rights will matter here just won’t come up. They would just re-sign him with the so-called non-Bird exception.
The Lakers would probably also prefer to sign him in free agency for the (albeit slim) chance he signs longer term but also because, well, that narrative about them not having signed anyone of note in free agency has grown quite old, as flawed as the narrative might be.
So we wait to find out sometime before Friday about whether James will opt into his current contract and offer the Cavaliers the opportunity to either convince him to stay beyond this season or net a couple pieces during his departure.