Update: LeBrom James decided on Friday to opt out of his contract for next season with the Cavaliers. Click here to read Keith Pompey’s latest story.
LeBron James has a huge decision to make before free agency begins Sunday.
He has until 11:59 p.m. Friday to opt in or out of his $35.6 million player option with the Cleveland Cavaliers for next season. James would become an unrestricted free agent by opting out.
The 76ers could have an outside chance of luring James even though Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers appear to be the likely destinations if he becomes a free agent.
Another Sixers target, Paul George, reportedly told the Oklahoma City Thunder that he plans to opt out of the $20.7 million salary for the final year of his deal with the team before Friday’s deadline. The Lakers are in the running to sign George as well.
Up until recently, there was an overwhelming thought that George would sign with his hometown Lakers. But opting out doesn’t mean that George has ruled out playing for the Thunder. He’s considering a return to Oklahoma City as a free agent, according to reports, and could make more money under that scenario.
ESPN reported Thursday that James texted expected free agent Kevin Durant about joining him to play for the Lakers. However, Durant, who led Golden State to the last two NBA titles, is likely to re-sign with the Warriors.
George is arguably a better free-agent option for the Sixers than James, who will turn 34 at the end of December. At 28, George is 5 1/2 years younger than James. He’s also a better fit to pair with all-star center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons. George is a great shooter and has been an all-NBA first-team defender. Most important, he’s not ball-dominant, like Simmons and James are.
But James, a 14-time all-star, is regarded as the best player in the world and is on top of every team’s free-agent wish list.
The three-time NBA champion would instantly become the unquestioned team leader. He and Simmons are both represented by agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. James is also Simmons’ mentor. As a result, the two shouldn’t have a problem playing together for a couple of seasons.
James would be eligible to sign a five-year, $205 million free-agent deal with Cleveland this summer if he opts out. George is eligible to sign a five-year contract worth $176 million if he stays with the Thunder.
If James signs with another team, his max salary would be $152 million over four years. George’s max with another team would be $130 million over four years.
However, both could opt to sign a “one-and-one deal,” a one-year contract for the 2018-19 season with a player option for 2019-20. That would enable them to become unrestricted free agents next summer, if they don’t opt in.
Right now, the Sixers have practical salary-cap space of $30.5 million for the upcoming season. That does not include the first-year salaries for the unsigned contracts of first-round picks Zhaire Smith ($2.58 million) and Landry Shamet ($1.68 million).
The Sixers would have to clear up $35.4 million in cap space to sign James to a max contract.
They would have to find ways to fit James or George under their cap, possibly by dumping salaries. One option would be to waive Jerryd Bayless, who has one year left on his deal. The Sixers could stretch his $8.5 million salary over three years to free up more money.
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