8:07pm: The Cavaliers have made the signing official in a team release. “We could not be happier to welcome LeBron James home,” Cleveland GM David Griffin said in the accompanying statement. “Yesterday, LeBron, through his essay, told us he wasn’t going anywhere except Cleveland and that ‘Cleveland is where he always believed he would finish his career.’ These words and commitment put all of us, including LeBron, in the best position to build our franchise the right way and achieve the kind of goals we all know are possible. Expectations will be at the highest levels but no one should expect immediate and automatic success.”
SATURDAY, 5:12pm: James’ contract with the Cavs has been finalized, sources tell Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. It’s a two-year, $42.1MM deal with a player option for the second season. While the deal doesn’t lock James in for the long term run he vowed to fulfill in his announcement, it is designed with an eye toward expected jumps in league revenue and increased earning potential for the game’s best player. Renewed TV deals and an opportunity for the player’s union to renegotiate the CBA in the coming years could lead to significantly higher max contract values. James, who had never been the highest paid player on his own team before signing this time with Cleveland, will look to cash in if those opportunities materialize.
“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” the Akron native writes in the first paragraph of his as-told-to cover story in Sports Illustrated. “It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
James said his primary reason for leaving the Heat after four years, four NBA Finals appearances, and two championships isn’t because he didn’t have faith that the front office could put the right team together, but that he wants to bring a title to Cleveland. He always believed he’d return to finish his career in Cleveland, but he just didn’t know when he would come back, he writes. The reaction of owner Dan Gilbert and fans in Cleveland to his 2010 departure for Miami weighed on him, but he said he’s talked the matter out with Gilbert “face-to-face, man-to-man.”
Presumably, it’ll be a max contract worth $20.6444MM in the first season for the four-time MVP, who won his first two such trophies with the Cavs, for whom he played from 2003-10. The Cavs aggressively sought the cap flexibility necessary to create max room, completing a three-team trade with the Nets and Celtics on Thursday that gave them the ability to open cap space for James.
Agent Rich Paul took meetings with the Cavs, Mavs, Suns and Lakers last week while the Heat were the only team with whom James met personally. Paul, who was also in that Heat meeting, was reportedly determined to get his client to return to Cleveland. Heat owner Micky Arison took to Twitter to express that he’s “shocked and disappointed” by the news but thanked James for the memories and wrote that he’d never forget what James brought to the Heat the past four seasons. It’s a far cry from Gilbert’s sharply worded response in 2010, which reportedly had been on James’ mind in the hours leading up to this year’s choice.
The move opens the gates to a number of other decisions around the league, with the free agency of Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, the fate of trade candidate Kevin Love, and a slew of other important matters still unresolved. The Cavs have reportedly been set to pursue Love contingent on their acquisition of James, though they appear unwilling to give up No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins to facilitate such a deal.