LeBron James will opt out of the final two years of his contract with the Miami Heat, making him a free agent after leading the franchise to four straight finals appearances.
Heat President Pat Riley said he was informed today of the 10-time All-Star’s intentions.
“We fully expected LeBron to opt-out and exercise his free agent rights, so this does not come as a surprise,” Riley said in a statement. “We look forward to sitting down with LeBron and his representatives and talking about our future together.”
Opting out doesn’t preclude a player from re-signing with his team. For Miami, it would give the team flexibility under the National Basketball Association’s salary limit.
James, 29, was a free agent when he signed a six-year contract worth about $110 million with the Heat in 2010 and won two championships in four seasons in Miami. James was set to make $20.5 million and $22.1 million the next two seasons.
The NBA’s free agent period begins July 1.
James could get a new five-year contract from the Heat worth about $129 million as a free agent. He’d take a pay cut by playing elsewhere, as the maximum he could get from another team is $95.8 million over four seasons. The Heat would have to agree to a sign-and-trade deal for James to get maximum money from another franchise.
After the Heat lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, ending their two-year reign as champions, James said he needed some time before making a decision about his contract.
Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could also opt out of their contracts and test the free-agent market. Both had at least $40 million left on their contracts the next two years.
“The last four seasons have been historic and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Erik Spoelstra have led the Miami Heat to one of the most unprecedented runs in the history of the NBA,” Riley said of the team’s three highest-paid players and its coach.
The Heat have been listed as a 1-6 favorite to bring James back next season, according to online sports book Bovada.lv. The Cleveland Cavaliers, with whom James spent his first seven NBA seasons, were next at 6-1. The Houston Rockets had 10-1 of being James’s next team, followed by the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers at 15-1 and the Los Angeles Lakers at 20-1.
A major question looming for James may be whether the Heat are able to surround him with enough talent to compete for another championship. Miami’s bench was outscored by more than 16 points a game in the NBA Finals, when the Heat were outscored by a total of 70 points in the series, the largest point differential in league history.