Grade the deal: LeBron James keeps upper hand, re-signs with Cavaliers
No letter this time, just a signature.
LeBron James has agreed to re-sign with the Cavaliers on a two-year, $47 million contract, according to ESPN.com and CBSSports.com. The deal, which will pay him $23 million in 2015-16, includes a $24 million player option for 2016-17.
The pomp and circumstance that accompanied James's 2014 return to Cleveland after four years in Miami didn't exist this time around. SI.com dubbed James's 2015 decision "The Formality" because the four-time MVP never indicated a desire to expand his free-agent options outside the Cavaliers, and that's exactly how it wound up playing out.
James, 30, averaged 25.3 points, 7.4 assists and 6 rebounds per game in 2014-15. He was selected to the 2015 All-NBA First Team and the 2015 All-Star team, and he carried the injury-ravaged Cavaliers to the Finals, where they lost to the Warriors in six games.
The final terms here were exactly as anticipated and forecast through various media reports: James receives max money this year, flexibility to receive max money next year if a catastrophe strikes, and the right to become an unrestricted free agent again next summer when the salary cap is set to jump from $70 million to roughly $89 million. The short-term nature of his contract also allows him to exert maximum influence over the decisions made by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who has committed to spending huge money this offseason to sign Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson (still being finalized), Iman Shumpert and Mo Williams.
James followed the same contract blueprint last year and, in all likelihood, he will continue taking similar deals as the cap rises over the next few years. Doing so has clear financial benefits, as new maximum contracts would start at $29 million in 2015-16 and $35 million in 2017-18, per NBA.com estimates, up significantly from the per-year salaries he would receive by signing a longer-term contract this summer. The constant re-upping also forces Gilbert to keep reinvesting in James's supporting cast.
Although many observers assumed that other star players would follow in James's contractual footsteps this summer, that hasn't really been the case. By and large, the biggest names favored contracts with at least three guaranteed years of money, opting for long-term security over flexibility and leverage. Those decisions are just another reminder that James exists on a different realm than most of his peers: his skill level, durability and popularity combine to erase any concerns most players have when it comes to the career-changing impact of a serious injury. James seems to understand that during his prime years he will be as close to a risk-proof commodity as the modern NBA has seen.
Welcoming James back last year was a monumental event for the Cavaliers franchise and, by comparison, this agreement might feel more routine. The stakes are just as big, though, because every year James is under contract is another year that Cleveland can compete for its first championship. Taking care of business this summer has also helped re-write Gilbert's reputation: The crank who wrote that famous Comic Sans rant has become the committed boss who spared few expenses in surrounding James with a roster that looks poised to win the East again.