LeBron James’ contract decision

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Kevin Durant has attracted the most attention in free agency, but an even better player hits the market tomorrow:

LeBron James.

LeBron has spent the last two seasons with the Cavaliers on 1+1 contracts, and he again opted out this year. He has said he plans to return to Cleveland.

But that still leaves a major decision: one-year contract or a two-year contract?

We’ll make two assumptions from here:

1. The Cavs won’t go under the salary cap. As much as he wants a few extra million dollars from Dan Gilbert, LeBron isn’t going to destroy a championship team to get it. Cleveland is so far above the cap, it’d take major moves to get below.

2. LeBron’s next deal will include a player option as insurance in case something goes wrong, but his intent will be to opt out. So, what I call a one-year contract will actually have a player option for the second year, and what I call a two-year contract will actually have a player option for the third year.

The Cavaliers have LeBron’s Early Bird Rights, meaning they can exceed the cap to re-sign him at 175% of his previous salary up to the league-wide max. LeBron earned $22,970,500 last season, so 175% would get him to the max — projected to be a little more than $30 million.

However, there’s a catch. Early-Bird contracts must be for at least two years (not counting option years). So, LeBron couldn’t maintain his maximum leverage while earning a maximum salary.

To give him a one-year contract, Cleveland would have to partially renounce LeBron and sign him through Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights). A Non-Bird contract is limited to 120% of a player’s previous salary. For LeBron, that’d mean $27,564,600 — about $3 million shy of the max he could get by signing into cap space with any team. Then, with Cleveland holding his full Bird Rights next summer, he could re-sign for the max.

So, would LeBron rather have the leverage of a one-year deal or more money up front?

If he signs a two-year deal, he’d project to make about $30 million this year and $33 million next year — $63 million over the next two seasons.

If he signs a one-year deal, he’d make $27,564,600 this year and about $34.5 million next year — $62 million over the next two seasons.

The difference is even more negligible than it appears. His projected max of $34.5 million for 2017-18 is based on the NBA’s latest cap projection ($107 million), and those tend to be conservative. If the cap comes in higher, so would LeBron’s max.

Another consideration: Would LeBron rather sign a long-term deal in 2017 or 2018? He obviously can’t in 2017 if he signs a two-year deal this summer. The salary cap is slated to dip from $107 million in 2017-18 to $105 million in 2018-19, which, at face value, would make 2017 a better time to lock in.

However, the projected cap reduction is based on a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that adjusts the cap if teams spend too much or too little on players the previous year. The upcoming season could be the final one of the current CBA, as either side can opt out by December 15, 2016.

LeBron, as players union vice president, should have insight into what the CBA will look like in coming years.

So, LeBron’s decision will give us a clue about the league’s future — and inform us how to time rumors about LeBron leaving Cleveland.

Wild night in Miami: Heat top Nuggets 149-141 in 2 OTs

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MIAMI (AP) — They broke the stat system. That’s how good Miami and Denver were – even modern technology couldn’t keep up with the Heat and Nuggets.

For 48 minutes, they went back and forth.

And one overtime wouldn’t decide it, either.

Finally, after three hours, the Heat said enough. James Johnson scored a career-high 31 points, Kelly Olynyk added 30 off the bench and Miami set a franchise single-game scoring record by beating the Nuggets 149-141 in double overtime on Monday night.

“There didn’t deserve to be a loser,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Guys probably really enjoyed playing in a game like this.”

His guys did, anyway. Olynyk became the second reserve in Heat history to score 30. Wayne Ellington had 23 points, and the Heat made 20 3-pointers – second-most in franchise history.

All that comes with a serious disclaimer. There was no official boxscore after the game, because the system crashed in the first overtime and crews were scrambling to determine official numbers long after the final buzzer. What mattered most was the score – one that moved Miami (38-33) into seventh in the Eastern Conference and left the Nuggets two games back of the last Western Conference spot.

“They just executed,” Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said. “They got some, I think, fluke plays and a little luck and they’re at home, you know. Momentum shifted a little bit.”

Miami’s point total was also an NBA season high. Houston and Oklahoma City each scored 148 in games earlier this season.

Nikola Jokic had 34 points and 14 rebounds for Denver (38-33), while Wilson Chandler added 26 for the Nuggets. Jamal Murray scored 23 and Will Barton finished with 22 for Denver.

“There’s no stats. The stat machine blew up I guess,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But the only stat I cared about tonight is that I’m proud of the way we competed, I’m proud of the way we executed, I’m proud of the fact that we gave ourselves a chance.”

Neither team was at full strength. For Miami, Dwyane Wade (left hamstring strain) missed his fourth consecutive game, and Hassan Whiteside (left hip pain) sat out his fifth straight contest. Denver was without leading scorer Gary Harris, sidelined again by a strained right knee that could keep him out several more days.

Denver led 16-5 after 3 1/2 minutes, and that was the only double-digit lead by either side for about the next three hours. It was airtight until the very final moments, almost to an absurd degree.

After one quarter, Denver led by one.

Halftime, Miami led by one.

After three, Miami still by one.

After regulation, tied.

After one overtime, still tied.

“That’s as playoffs as it comes,” Olynyk said.

Back and forth they went all night, two teams who played a one-point game at Denver back in November – that one not being decided until Dion Waiters‘ missed jumper as time expired sealed the Nuggets’ win. This one had even more fireworks, with the Heat missing shots at the end of regulation and the first overtime before finding a way in the second OT.

Olynyk and James Johnson had all 13 Miami points in the first overtime.

“We didn’t exactly want it to be like this,” said Ellington, who rattled home a 3-pointer to start the second OT and put Miami ahead for good. “But these are the types of games that show your character.”


LeBron James’ triple-double lifts Cavaliers past Bucks

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 40 points as part of his third triple-double in four games and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 124-117 on Monday night as coach Tyronn Lue began his leave of absence to address health issues.

Lue said Monday in a statement he been dealing with chest pains and loss of sleep, and that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is. Associate head coach Larry Drew will run the team in Lue’s absence.

James scored 17 points in the third quarter and finished with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 16th triple-double this season and 71st of his career.

The four-time MVP took over in the third beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers. After not getting a foul called on a third attempt, he finished Cleveland’s next possession with a massive dunk. He was fouled attempting another dunk and made both free throws the following time down.

Milwaukee cut a 17-point lead to 117-109, but James drove the length of the floor for a dunk with just over a minute left.

Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love returned after missing six weeks because of a broken left hand and scored 18 points in 25 minutes. He sparked a 10-0 run in the second quarter with two 3-pointers

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 37 points and went 11 for 11 at the foul line for Milwaukee, which is seventh in the Eastern Conference. Khris Middleton had 30 points, making 11 of 16 from the field.

Milwaukee guard Jason Terry was given a Flagrant-1 foul for hitting Ante Zizic in the face with an open hand while the rookie center was putting up a shot in the lane. Zizic made both free throws, helping spark a run that built a double-figure lead.

Lue, 40, led Cleveland to the 2016 NBA championship after taking over for David Blatt midway through that season.

The Cavaliers (41-29) are third in the Eastern Conference and have endured roster shake-ups, injuries and other distractions as they try to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight time.

No timetable has been given for when Lue will return. He missed the second half Saturday, the second time this season he left a game because he wasn’t feeling well. Lue also sat out a game against Chicago at home in December.


Pelicans rookie Frank Jackson has another surgery, will miss entire season now

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Pelicans say rookie guard Frank Jackson won’t make his NBA debut this season after having follow-up surgery to remove residual scar tissue from earlier right foot operations.

The Pelicans say Jackson also received an injection in his foot.

The club says a specialist in New York handled Jackson’s latest procedure.

The Pelicans acquired the 6-foot-4 Jackson through a draft-night trade with the Charlotte Hornets, who selected the former Duke player with the first pick of the second round last summer.

Following the draft, the Pelicans signed Jackson to a three-year contract at the NBA minimum with two years guaranteed, but Jackson needed a second foot surgery last summer to address a setback following his initial surgery last May.

Jackson spent one season at Duke, averaging 10.9 points.


Giannis Antetokounmpo turns bad pass into ridiculous alley-oop (VIDEO)

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That is just not fair.

Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe threw an alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo that was off the mark — high and behind him — but it just doesn’t matter. The Greek Freak gets up and throws it down.

It’s early, but it’s going to be hard to beat that one for dunk of the night.