NBA icon LeBron James has made a decision on where he will play next season after he became a free agent.
LEBRON James has signed an $AUD208 million four-year deal to join the Los Angeles Lakers, his management company Klutch Sports has announced.
The 33-year-old opted out of his final-year $48 million contract option with the Cleveland Cavaliers and entered free agency where several franchises were chasing his services.
The game’s biggest star will now lead a young Lakers team that has been overmatched in recent years while rebuilding but will instantly rise with James. Los Angeles also provides James with a larger platform for his business interests and social activism.
This is the third time in eight years James has changed teams. He returned to the Cavs in 2014 after four seasons in Miami.
The NBA icon previously said he wanted to finish his career in Ohio, and although he’s leaving home again, Cleveland fans are more forgiving after he ended the city’s 52-year sports championship drought in 2016.
There were reports James’ agent Rich Paul would meet the Philadelphia 76ers today to discuss a possible move to the franchise that plays home to Aussie star and NBA Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons, but the Lakers won the race for the four-time league MVP’s signature.
Even after becoming a free agent, James was still a chance to sign on again with Cleveland. By declining the option with the Cavs he had more choices, including re-signing with the Cavs, who could have offered him a five-year, $209 million contract. James could also have signed a short-term deal with Cleveland, something he has done each year since returning in 2014.
But the decision to head to the west coast comes after it was revealed his camp wasn’t going to sit down for a face-to-face meeting with Cavs powerbrokers.
The Lakers were the frontrunners to pick James up and that speculation was only fuelled by the fact he was spotted heading to LA — where he owns a home — on the weekend.
Suggestions the Lakers were chasing Oklahoma City Thunder’s Paul George and wantaway San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard added to the theory the franchise wanted to stock up on big-name talent as an added incentive for James to make the switch. George has since recommitted to the Thunder but Leonard’s future is still uncertain.
At his new home James will be hoping to end the Golden State Warriors’ dominance of the Western Conference. The Lakers boast up-and-coming talents like Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball and James will take the star power of the NBA’s most allured franchise to a new level.
The Lakers can offer top money plus talent and draft picks in order to surround James with players competitive enough to challenge the Warriors — who have defeated the Cavaliers in three of the past four NBA Finals series and must now contend with James as a Pacific division rival rather than a foe to be faced only twice a season and for the NBA title.
Speculation was rife James would do a similar two-year deal to Kevin Durant — who recently recommitted to the Warriors — with an opt-out clause after the first year of any new deal, making him a 2019 free agent. But James’ four-year agreement with LA means won’t be free again possibly until 2022.
News of James’ arrival saw the Lakers firm as $7 NBA title contenders in 2018-19 with the TAB.