The Cavaliers announced on Saturday the signing of LeBron James, who returns to the organization that drafted him after four years with the Heat. The two-year contract is worth $42 million, according to ESPN.com and Yahoo Sports, and reportedly includes a player option for the 2015-16 season.
James entered July as an unrestricted free agent after exercising the early termination option on his previous contract, which had been worth $109.8 million over six years. He had two years and $42.7 million remaining on that deal.
This new contract affords James a maximum amount of flexibility in advance of the NBA's upcoming negotiations with its television partners in 2016 and with the National Basketball Players Association in 2017.
Rich Paul, James' agent, reportedly met with the Cavaliers, Rockets, Mavericks, Lakers and Suns earlier this month in Cleveland. James then met with Miami president Pat Riley in Las Vegas on Wednesday, but the two parted without an agreement.
On Friday morning, James announced that he would sign with the Cavaliers in an essay with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins. Although he can become a free agent again in each of the next two summers, James wrote that he wants to raise his children in Ohio and that he wants to leave a legacy in his home state.
"What’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio," James wrote. "I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy."
James, 29, averaged 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.6 steals last season, earning All-Star, All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive Second Team honors. The four-time MVP and two-time title-winner led the Heat to their fourth straight Finals appearance in 2014. The No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft out of Akron, OH., James spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Cavaliers before teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form the "Big Three" in 2010.
“We could not be happier to welcome LeBron James home," Cavaliers GM David Griffin said in a statement. "LeBron, through his essay, told us he wasn't going anywhere except Cleveland and that ‘Cleveland is where he always believed he would finish his career.’ These words and commitment put all of us, including LeBron, in the best position to build our franchise the right way and achieve the kind of goals we all know are possible. Expectations will be at the highest levels but no one should expect immediate and automatic success."
SI.com ranked James at No. 1 on our "Top 25 Free Agents of 2014" list, noting that he remains the league's most dominant individual force even though Thunder forward Kevin Durant took home MVP honors this season.
The decision is a stunning blow to the Heat, who entered the summer as the odds-on favorites to land James thanks to their recent dominance of the weaker Eastern Conference, their star core trio, and their ability to offer James more money than any other team. As the incumbent team, Miami was able to offer James a five-year contract worth up to $118.7 million. All other suitors, including Cleveland, were able to offer James a four-year deal worth $88.2 million.
James ultimately chose to roll back "The Decision," opting for the promise of a younger Cavaliers roster, headlined by 2012 Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving and 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. The Cleveland fans who once burned his jerseys and booed him mercilessly will surely welcome him back with open arms.
Miami's aging and splintering roster surely played some role in his thought process. Wade, 32, is no longer the player he once was, and he sat for roughly one-third of the 2013-14 as he managed ongoing knee issues. Shane Battier opted for retirement this summer, while the Heat elected to use the amnesty clause on Mike Miller last summer. Riley's efforts to convince James to stay in Miami included agreements with free-agent forwards Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. The prospect of those additions ultimately proved unsuccessful in swaying James, but Riley did succeed in re-signing All-Star forward Chris Bosh on a five-year, maximum $118 million contract.
Landing James was the score of the summer for any team, and the terms are totally irrelevant. James is worth far more to an organization than the NBA's maximum salary structure allows him to be pad, and he's worth even more to the Cavaliers, who have had their championship hopes rekindled four years after James' departure dashed them.
Although James has maximized his flexibility and leverage with the player option and short term contract, he's also boxed himself into remaining in Cleveland for the long-term with his genuine, thoughtful essay. The Cavaliers need not stop their offseason party to fret about his future free agency possibilities. Future negotiations will involve offering James every penny he is legally allowed to earn and thanking him for embracing the challenges that go with transforming a perennial lottery tema into a contender.
James is the NBA's premier talent, and his influence should stretch into all aspects of his new roster and his new organization. He is, quite simply, a $42 million bargain.