LeBron James has declined the player option in his contract for an additional year with the Cleveland Cavaliers, making him an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any NBA team, according to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com.
James, whose season finished with a loss in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, demonstrated with the way that he singlehandedly willed the Cavaliers through the Eastern Conference Playoffs that he is still the best basketball player on the planet, and well worth being at the top of the Los Angeles Lakers’ priority list for free agency.
The greatest player in Cavaliers history — and possibly NBA history as well — will have no shortage of suitors, including Cleveland, but the Lakers have long been rumored to be one of his preferred destinations. Vardon, who noted that the Lakers are the "most likely destination" for James also reported that the idea of playing in L.A. "appeals" to the all-time great:
James has a home in Los Angeles, as do his chief business associates, and the allure of playing for a historic franchise like the Lakers appeals to him.
However, returning to the Cavaliers is also very much still an option:
LeBron James has informed the Cavs he won’t opt into his contract. This decision is favorable to the Lakers chances, hurts the Rockets chances and the Cavs remain firmly in mix.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) June 29, 2018
Had LeBron opted in, that would have been a bad sign for Cleveland -- it would basically have meant that his camp had a trade partner lined up. As it stands now, CLE is still in the mix. According to a Cavs source, the team's "Plan A, B & C in free agency is to keep LeBron"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) June 29, 2018
With their young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram, as well as the most cap space in the league, the Lakers offer a compelling choice for James. If the team can add another free agent — say, Paul George — then they would have a mixture of star power and cheap starters and role players in order to help lift James in ways his supporting cast in Cleveland could not. The team has also aggressively been trying to add Kawhi Leonard in order to entice James to sign with them.
Free agency will begin on July 1, and the initial moratorium ends on July 6, which is the first day a player can officially sign on the dotted line with their new team, although they can come to a verbal agreement before then.
Things could get sorted out with James before then, as the rest of the league will likely be waiting for his domino to fall before making their decisions, but he has also shown a propensity in the past to take his time, so this could play out well towards summer league as well.