NEW YORK • Free agency for eligible National Basketball Association (NBA) players begins today, with Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James and Kevin Love drawing plenty of attention, but LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol are more likely to make a move.
Several media reports, citing unnamed sources, said James, the superstar playmaker who powered the Cavaliers into the NBA Finals, has told the team he will opt out of his contract, as Love also reportedly has done.
Situations often become murky because, while clubs can start making offers to players today, no deal can be signed until July 9, so confirmations often come long after deals begin settling out.
James is a free agent for the third time in five years after leaving Cleveland for Miami, spending four seasons with the Heat that brought two NBA titles and then opting last year to return to the Cavaliers.
This time, he is expected to re-join Cleveland after much talk about his devotion to his home region and his vow to turn the Cavaliers into champions and end their 51-year major sports title drought.
But opting out gives him leverage in making sure Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and the management are as good as their word about spending on free agents to keep the team a title contender, including top-dollar efforts to sign Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Australian guard Matthew Dellavedova.
Do not expect this to be the last time James opts out of his contract.
He is expected to sign with the Cavs again for US$22 million (S$30 million), only a boost of US$400,000 over what he would have made had he not opted out.
But, next year, when a new television deal boosts the NBA salary cap, James could see his salary jump to US$32.4 million by opting out.
And the following year, when more of the TV money kicks in, opting out could boost his pay cheque to US$40.7 million.
Beyond the Cavaliers, who fell to Golden State in the NBA Finals, come several free agents who could boost the fortunes of new clubs.
Aldridge is expected to leave Portland and the Los Angeles Lakers are among the teams who are likely to offer the forward a huge sum.
Memphis centre Gasol could lure offers after his career-high 17.4 points a game last season.
The Heat could lose guard Dwyane Wade, who has opted out of his deal to test the market, but British forward Luol Deng picked up his contract option on Monday and will remain with Miami for next season.
San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, is expected to stay with the Spurs. Either Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili could retire, but if they return, the Spurs again figure to be a factor in the title hunt.
Golden State have to do what they can to keep forward Draymond Green, a key player in the Warriors' title run, while Chicago's Jimmy Butler, the NBA's Most Improved Player last season, figures to command a strong salary offer.
The Bulls can match it or watch him exit after a season where he led the league in minutes played with career-high averages of 20.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists.