While the headline of this post is indeed factual, LeBron James' opting out of the second year of his two year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers was about as unexpected as the sun rising in the East, so I do feel a little dirty for drawing you in like that. I mean, the only thing that would have made the headline of this post more clickbait-ish would be if I said "LeBron James Opts Out Of His Contract, AND YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT," like half the headlines posted on Facebook.
For this, I am sorry. But there is news in all of this, I swear.
Indeed, LeBron's decision (lowercase "d" because that matters with LeBron, as we've learned) was hardly a decision at all. When he inked a two year contract with a player option after one year in his return to Cleveland last summer, we all knew this opt-out day was coming. This is a formality. LeBron will be a Cleveland Cavalier again next season, it is a virtual lock. That's not what his opt out is about. Hell, it's not even really about money. (LeBron will get the max every year from now until the end of his playing days.)
It's about control. Total control. Control of a franchise, control of an offseason. And so LeBron's opting out of his contract after one year, while administratively about as small a non-event as there is on the NBA calendar, could not be more significant in what it represents amidst the NBA power structure.
LeBron will now watch and see what the Cavaliers do this offseason to improve his supporting cast, or at the very least, keep the key components in place for him to make another run (or several) at an NBA title. He will need to see those close to him (namely, Tristan Thompson) taken care of, he will need to see a financial commitment from ownership to do whatever LeBron deems necessary to be highest-level competitive.
Once they've made all of their moves, then and only then will the King bless it with his signature. His will be the final stamp of approval.
Lebron now has the same control that an MLB general manger like Billy Beane has in Oakland or an NFL head coach/czar like Bill Belichick has in New England. He has this. As a player, he has this. And it's fascinating to watch.
It's fair to say that the personnel moves the Cavaliers' brass have made since James' return to Cleveland (all of which are presumably approved by, if not mandated by, James) have been hit or miss. The in-season acquisition of Timofey Mozgov gave them a capable big to score in the paint and protect the rim, and the in-season trade that brought Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith from New York brought valuable depth.
On the other hand, the trade that sent Andrew Wiggins (and other stuff) to Minnesota for Kevin Love has the potential to be a disaster if Love decides to take his talents elsewhere. Love, like LeBron, has opted out of his deal and is entering free agency, and he will have max-contract level interest from several teams looking to do something splashy. On top of that, it's no secret that Love and James did not mesh well on any level this past season.
Keeping Wiggins would have arguably made Cleveland a better team this past season, inarguably would've made them more formidable in the NBA Finals, and likely would have secured their future post-LeBron in terms of having a franchise player to build around into the 2020's.
Telling James what he wanted to hear to bring him home was one thing, as was trading Wiggins for Love (a LeBron demand, reportedly), but now comes the offseason of real commitment for Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. He already has point guard Kyrie Irving under contract to an $18 million per year deal into 2020. Tristan Thompson's being repped by LeBron's agent and childhood friend Rich Paul guarantees he's getting a max or near max deal. Kevin Love will need max dollars if he indeed decides to return to Cleveland.
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And this is all before LeBron gets his deal. The salary cap is set to hit around $90 million in 2016-2017, but Gilbert's Cavs will be operating above that number almost assuredly in 2015-2016 if they bring everybody back, which means Prokhorov Nets-level luxury taxes.
But that's the cost of doing business with LeBron James, LLC. You want your franchise to double in value, Gilbert? It comes with an investment.
If nothing else, one year later it's become crystal clear as to why Lebron returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer. Saving his home state of Ohio was a mere byproduct. James wanted the control he would never have with Pat Riley in charge in Miami. Now, LeBron is truly the King of an NBA team, ruling with the iron fist of leverage that only a perennial opt-out clause can bring.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.