The Decision has been made. LeBron James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a league source tells SheridanHoops.com.
James met with Miami Heat president Pat Riley today in Las Vegas to deliver the news. A contingent of other Heat officials were informed they were not welcome at the meeting, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
An official announcement will be made on www.lebronjames.com, as I first reported yesterday.
For Cleveland, this is one of the most important days in the city’s sports history. No pro team has won a title of any kind since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964, and now there is a distinct possibility that the 50-year drought can end. James will be joining a team led by Kyrie Irving, who just agreed to a five-year contract extension, along with Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 pick in last month’s draft.
It is a young core that will grow older with James as their tutor and leader, and he returns to Cleveland as a grown man who has learned what it takes to win.
For Miami, it is the end of an era — a four-year period in which a superteam was constructed and went to four straight NBA Finals.
Why is this happening? It comes down to LeBron building a legacy, which leads us to three points:
- There is nothing left for him to accomplish in Miami. He went there for four years, he went to the NBA Finals all four years, and he won two titles while learning what it takes to be a champion. Nobody can ever take that away from him.
- A chance to return home as a successful, seasoned adult with a chance to deliver the city of Cleveland its first championship since 1964 is too much of a legacy opportunity for James to pass up.
- And another thing: With all due respect to Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the best player he has a chance to team up with is named Kyrie Irving.
In today’s biggest piece of news from the morning, the Cavs cleared the cap space to make a max offer to LeBron by dealing away Jarrett Jack, Sergei Karasev, Tyler Zeller and a 2016 first-round pick in a three-way trade with Boston and Brooklyn.
Today, all eyes have turned to Las Vegas, where James opened his annual summer camp, then held his meeting with Riley.
Once James makes his intentions known publicly (and the same goes for Carmelo Anthony, who reportedly will stay with the New York Knicks), the free agency dam is going to burst.
Greg Monroe, Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson. They are all going to lock up their deals in a very short span of time, and it is going to be madness.
We have been telling you for weeks that Cleveland is in the hunt for James. Some have dismissively scoffed at the notion. Others have surveyed the landscape, summoned their inner Spock and said: “Why not?”
James traveled Monday to Las Vegas, and a source who has been briefed on James’ free agency maneuverings told SheridanHoops that James’ inner circle, from his wife, Savannah to his agent, Rich Paul, to his best friends, Maverick Carter and Randy Mims, are unanimous in their belief that James’ best move is a return to the team he played for from 2003-2010.
Fans in Cleveland have been holding their collective breath, and now they can exhale. The chance for the city’s first championship in any major professional sport since 1964 is now a distinct possibility.
The Cavs were the only team able to offer James something no one else could: Redemption. Let us not forget that we are reaching the four-year anniversary of “taking my talents,” Jim Gray, Cavs fans burning jerseys and Dan Gilbert wrongly predicting more championships for Cleveland than Miami in his infamous comic sans stream-of-consciousness Internet post — a post that was purged from the Cavs’ Web site overnight Sunday.
Never has the balance of power in the NBA hung in the balance quite the way it does now. OK, it was a similar situation four years ago regarding the balance of power, and we all were witnesses to how much sway The Chosen One holds over our beloved Association. Now, it is a question of whether he can turn a young nucleus led by Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins into championship material.
The man who has been greasing the skids for this epic event is James’ agent, Rich Paul, who has been meeting with potential suitors in Cleveland during the first week of the NBA’s moratorium on signings and trades, which expires July 10. Much of Paul’s work has been taking place under the radar, although there have been clues, such as Mavericks owner Mark Cuban being spotted in northeast Ohio. The Lakers had a stealth meeting Friday, and the Rockets and Suns also spoke with Paul.
Meanwhile, on the Carmelo Anthony front, he has finished his tour of meeting with prospective teams and was told by the Knicks that they are indeed willing to make him a max, five-year offer. His decision could come at any time.
The list below shows our Top 25 free agents, but keep in mind that there are more than 100 NBA players whose contracts have expired and who will be looking for new deals in the next several weeks. Nobody can sign anything until July 10, but verbal agreements — such as the one Cleveland made with Kyrie Irving on a five-year max extension — are permitted.
Here is the latest on the Top 25. Players with a (R) next to their name are restricted free agents, meaning their teams have the right to match any offer they receive:
1. LeBron James, F, Miami Heat
Betcha didn’t realize this: LeBron has never earned a max salary. Never. And you would think he would want to reach that stratosphere before he turns 30 (which happens on New Year’s Eve). There is a scenario under which LeBron can sign a five-year deal with a starting salary of nearly $22 million and have a superstar cast surrounding him. But Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would have to sign for much less than the max. Only time will tell if they are willing to do that — and if James is willing to do the same to facilitate a stronger supporting cast. Check out this chart showing how much cap room the Heat and other teams have. July 1 UPDATE: The Lakers placed a call to LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, and the Mavericks, Rockets, Bulls, Warriors, Suns and Cavs are expected to kick the tires. UPDATE II: John Canzano of Oregonian reports James wants only a one- or two-year deal at max money. July 2 UPDATE: More questions than answers. July 3: Still no concrete word on what James is thinking. July 7 UPDATE: Clevelanders now believe they are squarely in the mix. Source tells SheridanHoops that James’ inner circle is unanimous in their belief that James should return to the Cavs. UPDATE II: Kyrie Irving has made a pitch to James, according to FoxSports Ohio. July 8 UPDATE: Meeting with Riley scheduled for Wednesday, Yahoo reports. JULY 9 UPDATE: Cavs have cleared max cap room by trading away Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller and Sergei Karasev. UPDATE II: The Decision has been made. He’s returning to Cleveland.
2. Carmelo Anthony, F, New York Knicks
When Phil Jackson said the Knicks would be good whether or not Anthony returns, not many people gave much credence to the thought of a new MeloDrama — though they should have. Same thing when Jackson said he would hold Anthony to his word in regards to taking less than the max to help the Knicks move forward with cap flexibility. There seems to be a consensus that ‘Melo is the most getable top free agent out there. JULY 1 UPDATE: Anthony will meet with the Bulls, then the Mavericks and Rockets, then the Lakers, and finally the Knicks. Last week, Jackson said his preference was either to make the first pitch or the last pitch. He will get the latter. UPDATE II: Berman of the Post says LaLa Vazquez wants to stay in New York. UPDATE III: Surprisingly, Derrick Rose was in attendance as Bulls made their pitch. He dined at night with a contingent that included Jerry Reinsdorf and Scottie Pippen. July 2 UPDATE: Lunch with the Rockets, after which they bring him to the arena and have a mock-up of Melo wearing No. 7 — Jeremy Lin’s number. “I get the sensitivity & I hate that it creates some hurt feelings. I don’t like that, but that’s obviously Carmelo Anthony’s number, that’s the number he wants. He told us that. Bottomline, if Carmelo comes, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin have to be traded. It’s just math. It’s not personal. My job is every day figure out how to win. Sometimes it creates challenging situations.” – Rockets GM Daryl Morey. UPDATE II: Nighttime meeting with Mavs at Mark Cuban’s house. Mark Cuban on Melo meeting (via CyberDust): “We made this purely a business meeting. No tours. No banners. All basketball and business.” JULY 3 UPDATE: Kobe Bryant has flown back from his European vacation to be part of the Lakers’ pitch. Mark Heisler thinks Lakers should steer clear. UPDATE II: Meeting lasted 2 1/2 hours. ‘Melo and Kobe will have a sitdown after Knicks make their pitch 3,000 miles from NY. UPDATE III: Knicks reportedly made verbal offer of max deal $129 for 5 years. JULY 4 UPDATE: Yahoo says Anthony was aligned with Jackson’s direction following their meeting. JULY 7 UPDATE: Informed speculation has ‘Melo choosing between the Lakers and Knicks. UPDATE II: Veteran beat writers at Chicago Tribune and NY Daily News say Bulls are still in the mix. JULY 8 UPDATE: Crickets. JULY 9 UPDATE: Marc Berman of the New York Post reports Jackson is trying to clear cap space to make an 11th hour run at LeBron James. Frank Isola of New York Daily News says barring a last-minute change of heart, Anthony will return to the Knicks.
3. Greg Monroe, F, Detroit Pistons (R)
He is going to get a max contract, because there just aren’t that many 24-years-olds standing 6-11 who can be obtained this summer. Also, his agent is David Falk, and if there is one thing that Falk knows how to do (aside from staying on Michael Jordan’s good side), it is getting his clients the most possible money. What makes the most sense is a max offer from the Lakers, who need to start putting together the building blocks of their future. Which means Stan Van Gundy (and Tom Gores) will need to decide: Is Monroe worthy of the max deal? July 1 UPDATE: The Portland Trail Blazers, Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic are the first three teams that have been mentioned as strong suitors for Monroe. Prepare for that list to get longer. JULY 8 UPDATE: It would appear that the Pistons have not made Monroe a max offer, or we’d have heard about it. So look for some team to max Monroe after the Melo/LeBron decisions are made, and then it will be a question of whether Detroit will match.
4. Kyle Lowry, G, Toronto Raptors
For a while, the general consensus among NBA personnel folks was that a four-year deal starting in the $11 million range would be enough for the Raptors to get their best player (apologies, DeMar DeRozan) to stick around. Then Lowry got linked to the Heat as a possible destination, and all bets were suddenly off. There is no way the Heat can give Lowry his fair market value unless he goes to Miami in a sign-and-trade, but there is nobody among Miami’s castoffs who is worthy of a similar deal. July 1 UPDATE: Lowry met with Raptors GM Masai Ujiri and coach Dwane Casey today in Philadelphia, then with Daryl Morey of the Rockets. Toronto weighing whether to offer a five-year deal, which no one else can do. Miami and Lakers trying to get a meeting. JULY 2 UPDATE: A decision could come today, according to the National Post in Canada. JULY 3 – UPDATE Shortly after midnight, Lowry tweets that he is returning to Toronto. He’ll get $48 million over four years with an Early Termination Option after Year 3.
5. Lance Stephenson, G, Indiana Pacers
You have to admire his fearlessness and feistiness, especially when it comes to competing against LeBron James, whose feuds with Stephenson over the past couple of seasons have brought extra sizzle to the Pacers-Heat rivalry. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to IQ, Stephenson is nonetheless one of the more gifted all-around players in anybody’s backcourt. It makes sense for the Pacers to re-sign him for less than the max; it is debatable whether he is worth a max contract. But given the fact that teammate Roy Hibbert has a max deal, Lance will be looking for the same. The question is whether he’ll have any leverage. July 1 UPDATE: The Pacers put together an elaborate pitch, producing a “Born Ready” movie that they showed to Stephenson shortly after midnight. But a max deal was not offered along with the popcorn, and Indiana’s five-year, $44 million offer was insufficient, Chris Broussard of ESPN reported. The Bulls, Lakers and Hornets have initiated contact. JULY 7 UPDATE: The Mavs and Lakers have registered their interest, ESPN reports. JULY 8 UPDATE – ESPN’s Dan LeBatard said the Heat reached out before coming to terms with Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger.
6. Eric Bledsoe, G, Phoenix Suns (R)
When he wasn’t injured, Bledsoe showed exactly why teams were lining up to try to acquire him before he was eventually dealt by the Clippers to the Phoenix Suns. The NBA is a point guard-driven league, and this guy is the one player out there (yes, even more so than Lowry, IHMO) who has superstar potential. The Lakers could do a lot worse than getting this guy along with Monroe, which together with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers’ lottery pick, Julius Randle, would have Jimmy Buss’ team contending from the opening tip this fall. JULY 1: The Suns have been mentioned as possible suitors for several top free agents because they have the ability to sign-and-trade Bledsoe. And since they drafted Tyler Ennis of Syracuse, a point guard, they may look to flip Bledsoe for a max man. A scenario exists whereby Bledson, LeBron James and Kevin Love would all play for Phoenix next season. JULY 4 UPDATE: The Bucks are pitching an offer sheet, according to ESPN.com.
7. Pau Gasol, F, Los Angeles Lakers
If we are to assume that Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Bosh are both going to remain with their present teams – a sound assumption – then Pau deserves a free agent ranking ahead of both of them. He can be acquired for less than the max, he fits as the last piece of a championship puzzle for a team that is one player away. JULY 1 UPDATE — Gasol has returned to the U.S. from Spain. The first calls came from the Lakers, Bulls, Mavericks and Warriors. Gasol spoke on the phone with Pat Riley and met for several hours with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak. Spurs are interested, but cannot come close to paying the $10-12 million Gasol is seeking unless there is a sign-and-trade. July 2 UPDATE: Bulls are heading to Los Angeles to talk to him. Gasol is their No. 1 choice after ‘Melo. Also, the Oklahoma City Thunder made a pitch led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. ESPN says he is willing to take less than market value from three teams: Spurs, Thunder and Knicks. Carmelo Anthony reportedly asked for Gasol’s phone number to pitch him on coming to the Knicks. JULY 4 UPDATE: Joakim Noah was part of a Bulls contingent making a pitch, and Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra are the pitchers today. July 5 UPDATE: Spurs will offer him their full mid-level exception, Yahoo reports. JULY 7 UPDATE: Thunder coach Scott Brooks met with Gasol, ESPN reported. JULY 8 — Sought by every good team in the Association, beginning with the Spurs. Met with OKC coach Scott Brooks on Monday, ESPN-LA reported. A true wild card.
8. Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas Mavericks
He isn’t going anywhere, but respect dictates that we place him in our top 10. It seems like an exercise in futility to list him as a free agent, because no one is expecting him to do anything other than end his career exactly where he started it. With Dirk, it is a question of how much money he will make, and how much he will leave for Mark Cuban to play with in free agency down the road. He has already said he plans to play well into his 40s. JULY 1 UPDATE — If and when the Mavericks get a sit-down with LeBron James, Nowitzki wants to take part as a recruiter. Same goes for the July 2 meeting with Carmelo Anthony which is already scheduled. July 3 UPDATE — Earlier than expected, the Mavs and Dirk sat down and quickly came to an agreement on a three-year, $30 million deal with an opt-out after two years. Nowitzki also keeps his no-trade clause.
9. Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat
He has opted out of a contract that would have paid him $42 million over the next two seasons, which is a helluva a lot of money to sacrifice without any assurance that a new deal with allow him to recoup that money. Unless, of course, there is a wink-wink deal in place. Of all the members of Miami’s Big Three, Wade has the most riding on keeping the trio intact. He is coming off an NBA Finals in which his decline was quite apparent. July 1 UPDATE — “Everybody has their [contract] number and has left a little bit of room to let [Riley] maneuver,” one source briefed on the contract discussions told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. UPDATE II: John Canzano of Oregonian says Wade will get a four-year deal with a starting salary of $11 million. Agent Henry Thomas says that is untrue. July 2 UPDATE: More questions than answers after the Big Three meet. They are unsure of what ‘Bron will do. JULY 6 UPDATE: “Nothing’s changed” in Wade and Bosh’s approach since the July 1 start of free agency, agent Henry Thomas told ESPN.com. “They appreciate what they’ve done in Miami those four years together, and they want to make sure they have a chance to have that same success the next four (years). “With Dwyane, he’s been there his entire career, so he’s in a unique situation. Chris has made it known how he’s felt about being in Miami these four years.” Thomas insisted that Bosh and Wade are operating under separate circumstances, but expects them to reach decisions on new deals “within the next couple of days.” ESPN.com reported. JULY 8 UPDATE, See James, LeBron.