Reports: LeBron James’ agent has Cavaliers believing they can sign LeBron

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LeBron James has remained in the background of free agency, not getting personally involved yet.

All the while, LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, has been meeting with teams. Presumably, that was just to lay the groundwork in case something went awry in Miami.

Perhaps, a little more is afoot now.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

At the urging of LeBron James’ agent, the Cleveland Cavaliers are pursuing a maximum contract salary slot to bring back the free-agent superstar, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Rich Paul, the president of Klutch Sports, has been funneling belief into the organization that the Cavaliers are in strong position to lure James from the Miami Heat, sources told Yahoo Sports.

For years, Paul has confided to people that bringing back James to Cleveland has been something of a mission for him, and he’s encouraging Cavaliers officials to offer no restraint in the recruitment of James, sources said.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

James’ agent, Rich Paul, has already sat down with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert in what is regarded as the first formal step toward trying to shrink the gulf between James and Gilbert after the ocean of hard feelings stemming from James’ departure from Cleveland in 2010 to sign with the Heat.

Sources say that the Cavs’ pitch made to Paul last week — which they also hope to make this week to James in their own face-to-face meeting — revolves around Kyrie Irving and the other young prospects they have, in addition to the numerous options Cleveland possesses to add to the roster over the next year.

Chris Broussard of ESPN:

That is a heck of a lot of smoke for there to be no fire, but I’m not really convinced.

For one, it’s quite possible – maybe even verging on likely – Wojnarowski, Windhorst and Broussard share the same sources. A small number of people could be controlling the echo chamber.

As Wojnarowski reports, Paul – also an Ohio native – might be the most committed to bringing LeBron back to Cleveland. Until LeBron himself gets involved, only so much can be read into this.

Then there’s the little matter of cap space.

Even if they renounce all their free agents and waive the unguaranteed contracts of Scotty Hopson and Matthew Dellavedova, the Cavaliers are $6,666,564 shy of offering LeBron a max contract. It wouldn’t be that difficult to trim the necessary payroll, but the cost of doing so would likely make Cleveland less desirable.

Wojnarowski:

The Cavaliers have found a landing spot for Jack and his $6.2 million annual salary in the Brooklyn Nets, but only if the Cavs can find a third team to take on Brooklyn’s Marcus Thornton, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Cleveland is offering Thornton and future draft considerations as incentive to absorb his $8.7 million expiring contract, sources said. The Cavaliers need to unload more contracts and have made 2013 first-round pick Sergey Karasev, among others, available in deals, sources said.

Thornton ($8,575,000) will actually make more money than Jack next season. If the Cavaliers attach a good enough draft pick to Thornton, they can trade him. That’s true of any player. But it should be telling that after shopping Jack around the league, the best they could draw was Thornton. Swapping one nearly immovable piece for another isn’t progress toward cap room.

Still, there are many other ways Cleveland could clear cap space. Just $4 million of Varejao’s $9,704,545 2014-15 salary is guaranteed – though removing the last LeBron-era holdover from the roster, as Wojnarowski reported, is probably a non-starter. Varejao can still contribute to a win-now team, and whether or not they land LeBron, the Cavaliers hold aspirations for quick success.

Clearing a few mid-level salaries – the combination of Anthony Bennett, Tyler Zeller andSergey Karasev for example – would work and probably net the Cavaliers picks in the process, though they’d be selling low on those players. Cleveland has all its own future first-round picks and incoming ones from the Grizzlies and Heat if needed to grease the wheels of a trade.

Then there’s the biggest issue: Dan Gilbert.

Gilbert’s heinous letter when LeBron left hangs like a raincloud over all this. Maybe LeBron has forgiven the Cavaliers owner, but the letter was personal and cut deep. I wouldn’t blame LeBron for holding a grudge.

Even if those two can patch up their personal differences, there are still professional issues to solve.

Without LeBron keeping him afloat, Gilbert has made several missteps as meddling owner. The Cavaliers went 33-49 last season, easily their best record since LeBron left.

Gilbert and general manager David Griffin must convince LeBron they could assemble and maintain a championship roster at least as well as Pat Riley can, hardly an easy sell. Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins offer a bright future, but it would take more tinkering in coming years to fulfill the potential dynasty LeBron would offer.

Getting the No. 1 pick every year is not a sustainable plan.

Soon, LeBron will meet with Riley, and I believe these reports mostly serve as a way for the NBA’s biggest star to apply pressure beforehand. But if Riley has struck out on upgrading the Heat’s roster around LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Cavaliers’ challenge – proving they can outdo Riley – gets a lot easier.