NEW YORK • To the surprise of no one, LeBron James has opted out of his Cleveland Cavaliers contract, becoming a National Basketball Association (NBA) free agent for the third straight off-season.
And, while all signs point to him returning to Cleveland - perhaps on another two-year deal with a player option for the second year - he would make more money signing elsewhere.
"I love it here. I love being here. I love my team-mates," he said during the Cavaliers' NBA title victory parade last week. "Obviously my agent will take care of all the logistical things but, I'm happy. I've got no plans to go nowhere at this point."
James made US$24 million (S$32.3 million) with the Cavaliers last season and would earn US$27.5 million if he signed another two-year deal with an opt-out to stay in Cleveland.
As ESPN's Brian Windhorst explained last week: "Another team with cap space - and there are more than 20 of them - could give James US$30.8 million for next season.
"The reason for this is complicated in contract language and maths. Summarised, the salary cap is leaping so much - US$24 million - that the increase in the max-contract parameters exceeds the 20 per cent raise the Cavs can offer James."
But James almost certainly is not going anywhere because he is playing the waiting game until the next off-season, when the NBA's new television deal with ESPN-ABC begins and the salary cap is expected to explode again.
He can afford to take a lower salary now in exchange for the vast riches that await him by signing a max contract worth more than US$200 million next summer.
Plus, the lower salary could give Cleveland a better chance to shore up his supporting cast apart from Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, who are locked up with long-term deals.
The Cavs would surely love to add Miami's Dwyane Wade, who, according to Windhorst, is prepared to truly hit free agency for the first time in his career and who maintains a close relationship with James. But they would have to get creative, as they have little salary-cap flexibility.
Last year, Wade opted out of his contract but did not last long in free agency, returning to the Heat on a one-year deal worth US$20 million.