As part of a larger piece about James potentially landing with the San Antonio Spurs, bound by mutual admiration and respect between LeBron and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reports that at the moment James is only willing to listen to the Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers.
It’s expected that James will opt out of his current deal and seek yet another full max deal that will be worth $35 million-plus per season. The 33-year-old’s supposed list isn’t too surprising as these are all teams that should have the means to make a play at the price he will be seeking.
Should he opt out, this will be old hat for the Cavaliers as it would be the third time since his return to the Cleveland in 2014 that James has done so, meaning there shouldn’t be any hard feelings between both sides should he do that again.
Additionally, and more importantly from Cleveland’s standpoint, is the fact it owns James’s Bird rights, so the salary cap isn’t a concern nor is the luxury tax as the Cavaliers have shown a willingness during this second go-around with James to pay the tax and keep their championship window open.
The Rockets won’t quite have the cap space available to straight-up sign James in the off-season, and the pending unrestricted free agencies of Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza only complicate matters. However, as he showed in acquiring Paul last summer, Houston general manager Daryl Morey is a creative deal-maker so clearing enough space to add a player like James can’t be counted out.
Los Angeles has been trying to clear the decks to pursue not just James but another max-level free agent, like Paul George, since last off-season and their plan has seemed to go off without a hitch. Somewhat ironically, by making that blockbuster deal with Cleveland at the trade deadline, it would appear Los Angeles managed to dump enough salary to accomplish exactly what it set out to do.
Lastly, the 76ers should be able to clear out just enough cap space for just under a full max contract should they decline options and renounce free agents. James obviously wants to make money, but the chance to play with young studs such as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons just might sway him to take a bit of a discount.
There are other teams that would have the cap space needed, but seeing as the 2018-19 season will be James’ 16th it makes sense that he would want to play for a franchise that could compete right now.
It’s sure to be an interesting off-season for James. For now, however, his focus is likely entirely on this season and trying to make an eighth straight NBA Finals.