It may seem hard to believe, but LeBron James is a free agent after this season. Odds are, James stays in Cleveland, but will he? And if he does stay, when will he sign a long-term contract?
“He could probably do it year-to-year one more year and then next year with a new cap he could get a bigger number by re-signing long term – but it’s not an accident he’s done it this way,” Yahoo! Sports NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski told Damon Amendolara and Jason La Canfora, who were filling in as hosts of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It allows him to exert pressure on the organization, whether it’s to spend money to help pay for other clients his firm represents on the roster. It allows him to hold a hammer over the organization for lots of different reasons by doing the one-year deal.”
Of course, if James, 31, were to leave Cleveland again, there’s a pretty good chance he would never be welcome in Northeast Ohio again. He has to know that.
“I am not of a belief that he would walk away again,” Wojnarowski said, “but I guess anything’s possible. He did do it once. I think it would permanently impale his relationship with Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. There are no teams lining up believing he’s on the market, I can tell you that. But until he signs it, I guess it is a threat that’s out there.”
The Cavs went 53-29 and held a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals last season. This year, they went 57-25 and are the favorites to once again win the East. James, however, didn’t return to Cleveland to play in the Finals; He returned to Cleveland to win the Finals.
Put another way: if James ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
“Listen, if there are personnel changes that he wants made, there’s a good chance they get made,” Wojnarowski said. “That’s the strength he holds in that organization. It was part of why he went back there. Certainly he had less influence in Miami under Pat Riley and that organization. He has more say in Cleveland. He’s not the only star player in the league that has influence in the league, but it’s pronounced there. But if he’s unhappy with something, he can just go right to the top and express himself, and then they got to make a decision about whether they want to adhere to what he suggested or (what his) ideas are, or do they go in another direction. I think that’s a constant conversation that they have there.
“But they have the pieces,” Wojnarowski said. “If they wanted to make changes to that roster, they have guys that have great trade value. They could alter the roster in significant ways if they chose to do that. If they don’t win a championship or get dominated against the Warriors or San Antonio, there could be changes made. If they played one of those teams great and got to a Game 6 or 7, maybe they keep this thing together. The playoffs are going to dictate that.”
The playoffs will also dictate, potentially, whether Golden State becomes the greatest team of all time. Steph Curry gave the Warriors a scare after rolling his right ankle in Game 1 of Golden State’s first-round series with Houston, but Wojnarowski expects the Warriors to handle Curry with care going forward, especially against the Rockets.
“Most organizations see the big picture with a player of that caliber, an elite star, and certainly the Warriors do,” Wojnarowski said. “They’re going to err on the side of caution. I think they know they could very easily win without him in this series if they have to. This is not a Game 6 or 7 where their season is on the line. If there’s any question at all, they’ll just buy him the extra couple days of rest. They’ve been through this together in years past with injuries, and I’m sure they’ll figure out the right way to handle it.”