After LeBron James declined his contract option last week, some NBA prognosticators decided he was headed for free agency and another uniform next season. After all, he brought his hometown a ring. Isn’t his work here done? James says, not remotely.
James might not have taken the $24 million option last week, but this is hardly the first time LeBron has been, technically, a free agent. He’s played that role for the past three years, each time coming to terms with Cleveland and, now, bringing a title home to the Cavs.
Lebron’s Unique Upper Hand
The smart money says he signs, and soon. But for how much and for how long remains up in the air. James is one of a very select group of athletes who can afford to let their contracts go year to year. He’s powerful, in his prime and continues to dominate in sports. Barring catastrophic injury, he will be in Cleveland, contract extensions or not, for years to come.
Instead of the year to year contracts putting pressure on the player to perform, it’s put pressure on the team to deliver. James wanted a strong supporting cast, and each offseason he got another piece of the puzzle. When the Cavs balked, he just tapped the date on his contract and raised an eyebrow. The team always relented. And getting with the program has gotten them a title.
So the big question is not really if LeBron will sign or for how long. It’s going to be what will he ask the team for this year. Irving and Love are both locked into three-year deals, Thompson has four more to go, so the nucleus of the championship team is going nowhere.
The Cavs’s Potential
But, while The Cavs became the first team to come from down 3-1 to win the Finals, they were far from perfect, and just about every team they faced in the playoffs exploited some weakness or another. These are the weaknesses the team can shore up this offseason. It’s possible if they do, the Cavs could become the most dominant team in the league since the early 90s Chicago Bulls.
Possible, because it’s too early to put this team in that company yet. They did a lot of great things this season, and it’s sure good to be the King…but now they have to reign.
Elie Hirschfeld is a real estate developer in the NY metro area.