Friday brought the expected from LeBron James.
Now comes the unknown.
According to league sources, the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player informed the Cavaliers he will decline the $35.6 million option year on his contract and become a free agent, clearing the way for him to leave Cleveland for the second time. James’ representatives face a league deadline of 11:59 p.m. on Friday to file the paperwork.
With free agency opening at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, the Cavs remain one of the top teams vying to sign James, along with the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers.
James opting out seriously hurts the chances of the Houston Rockets, who would have found it easier to acquire him in a sign-and-trade because of salary cap issues, which they face even before re-signing James’ close friend Chris Paul.
The Cavs can offer James the most money — five years and $205 million, which would be the largest contract in NBA history, as compared to four years and $152 million from any other team, according to ESPN figures.
If he elects to remain with the Cavs, James could also sign another contract for one year plus an option. That seems more likely if he has hopes of going elsewhere and forming another super team, with several big names set to become free agents next year. During the Finals, James said he is still in "championship mode," which clashes with his previous statements (one as recently as September) that he intended to stay with the Cavs.
The super team scenario seems already in motion in L.A., with the Lakers and Spurs reopening talks on a trade for injured and disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard, a two-time NBA defensive player of the year.
Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com reported Thursday that James’ interest in the Lakers is not contingent on Leonard being traded there. Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George, a native of Southern California like Leonard, could join James there this summer since the Lakers have room for two max contracts. Word broke Thursday that George is also opting out of his contract with the Thunder, although he has praised the organization since forcing his way out of Indiana via trade last summer.
The oldest of James’ three children, LeBron Jr., 13, is entering eighth grade, so a potential move before he starts high school could come into play. James will listen to the wishes of his family and his inner circle, which includes agent Rich Paul, business partner Maverick Carter and Cavs staffer Randy Mims, but said the ultimate call will be his.
Multiple reports said James does not want elaborate recruiting pitches like the ones he entertained before "The Decision" in 2010, when he took his talents to South Beach and won two championships in four seasons with the Miami Heat.
James has been to eight consecutive NBA Finals and won three titles, the last with the Cavs in 2016. At age 33, he is coming off arguably the finest individual season in his 15-year career.
During the Finals, James discussed what he seeks from his teammates — most notably high basketball IQs. The Cavs seemingly took that into consideration on June 21 when they drafted 19-year-old Alabama point guard Collin Sexton, who carried a 4.0 grade-point average and is dedicated to film study.
But James also emphasized the pressure that comes with competing for championships. What he didn’t mention was what he demands, with his evil eye after a teammate’s mistake infamous.
"Sad to say, but every player doesn’t want to compete for a championship and be in a position where every possession is pressure," James said on June 7, the day before the Golden State Warriors completed their Finals sweep of the Cavs.
Some reports say James’ decision could be between the Cavs and Lakers. James owns two homes in Brentwood, Calif., and his SpringHill Entertainment company is based in L.A.
On Tuesday, when Lakers president Magic Johnson introduced two draft picks, the NBA Hall of Famer gave himself a deadline to rebuild his former team.
"This is [about] two summers," Johnson said, per ESPN.com. "If guys decide not to come here, it’s not a failure — we turn to next summer.
"Next summer, if nobody comes and I’m still sitting here like this, then it’s a failure. … If I can’t deliver I’m going to step down myself."
Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, a graduate of Highland High School in Medina who was named the league’s executive of the on Monday, would love to have James. But Morey would have to clear over $20 million in cap space for James to play with Paul and newly crowned MVP James Harden.
The 76ers would seem a more logical destination if James wants to remain in the East and away from the Warriors, who have beaten the Cavs in the Finals three times in the past four years. But James must decide if Joel Embiid, 24, and Ben Simmons, 21, also represented by Paul, are ready for the daily pressure of competing for a title.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.