CLEVELAND (AFP) - Kyrie Irving signed a five-year contract extension on Thursday with the Cleveland Cavaliers as the NBA club made moves that could pave the way for signing free agent superstar LeBron James.
Irving's deal, believed to be worth the maximum US$90 million (S$111.8 million), ensures the Cavaliers' point guard will be part of the club's long-term talent mix.
The Cavaliers announced the move Thursday as fans awaited word on James, the former Cleveland star who left for Miami as a free agent in 2010 and led the Heat to two NBA titles and the past four NBA Finals.
James opted out of his contract with the Heat last month, as did fellow Heat stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
While the Heat hope to lure them all back to Miami, Houston has pitched a richer deal to Bosh and James has spoken to several clubs, notably the Cavaliers squad he spurned for Miami in 2010.
James, whose hometown in Akron was only a short drive south of Cleveland, was taken first overall in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cavaliers and his skills revived a once-moribund franchise, lifting the club into the NBA Finals for the first time, only to be swept by San Antonio in 2007.
While the Heat can offer James an experienced championship squad, the Cavaliers can pitch a younger supporting cast that now includes Irving, the 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year after being the 2011 top draft pick, locked into a long term deal.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who hired 2012 Russian Olympic bronze medal coach Dave Blatt as the team's new coach, Irving has averaged 20.7 points, 5.8 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals over 181 career games with Cleveland.
"We couldn't be happier to have Kyrie firmly at the core of our Cavaliers team and family for years to come," said Cavaliers general manager David Griffin. "He has already proven he's among the best in the NBA and we're excited to watch his continued growth and success." Irving's backcourt skill could help produce a championship contender for several seasons, particularly if paired with a playmaker such as James.
"To know (Irving) is all in and shares our high expectations and championship goals is something we're extremely proud of," Griffin said. "It is a clear reflection of how we all view our future together, with Kyrie fully vested in this franchise and the city of Cleveland." The Cavaliers still have plenty of room until NBA salary cap rules to sign four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James to a maximum four-year deal worth almost $100 million.
The Cavaliers made anotyher move to open salary room Thursday with trading guard Jarrett Jack and Russian forward Sergey Karasev to Brooklyn and sending center Tyler Zeller to Boston as part of a three-team deal.