ON KRAWCZYNSKI, AP Basketball Writer
For the third time in six seasons, LeBron James is an unrestricted free agent.
The difference this time is he has no plans to move again.
The Cleveland star will not exercise a $21.6 million option on his contract for next season, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Sunday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because neither the Cavaliers nor James were publicly discussing the process.
James’ decision has been widely expected for months. The approach allows him to sign a new maximum contract — likely another two-year deal with a player option for 2017-18 —that will pay him more than he would have made under his previous contract. His max number for next season, which is tied to how high the salary cap rises, is expected to be more than $22 million.
The last time James became a free agent from Cleveland in 2010, he famously left his home state team to play for the Miami Heat. James won two championships and played in four NBA Finals in his four years in Miami before making the celebrated decision to return home last summer.
This time around, James plans to stay put while Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and GM David Griffin set about improving the roster in hopes of surrounding James with the talent he will need to end Cleveland’s 51-year championship drought.
The Cavaliers have plenty of decisions to make and negotiations to conduct for free agents Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert. But the process with James will be fairly straight forward. He’s made it clear through actions and words to Cavaliers management that he isn’t going anywhere.
“We’ve heard from him every day pretty much relative to our roster,” Griffin said last week. “It’s been great. He’s been very much engaged with us on a lot of different levels, so it’s been positive.”
James led the short-handed Cavaliers back to the finals in June and put on a breath-taking performance to make the Golden State sweat it out for six games before Steph Curry and Co. captured the Warriors’ first title since 1975. With Love and Kyrie Irving out with injuries, James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists and almost 46 minutes in the series.
If James signs another two-year contract with a player option on the second year, it would allow him to reap the financial windfall that is expected when the NBA’s new television contract kicks in next summer and sends the salary cap sky-rocketing.
Teams can start negotiating with players on July 1 and sign them to contracts beginning July 8.
James’ deal will likely be tabled while the Cavaliers address Thompson, Love and Shumpert, who is a restricted free agent.