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.

Rumor: Spurs won’t trade Kawhi Leonard to Western Conference team

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants the Spurs to trade him, ideally to the Lakers or Clippers.

Chris Sheridan of Get More Sports:

He is not going to Los Angeles…or any other destination in the Western Conference, sources are telling GetMoreSports.com.

Leonard has some leverage in that he can tell any non-L.A. team that he has no interest in signing an extension after his current deal expires in a year, and that may end up diminishing the value of offers Eastern Conference teams are willing to make.

But if you think that bothers Popovich, you don’t know Popovich. The guy would gladly take 75 cents on the dollar for Kawhi if he could ship him out of the West — even if that upsets Kawhi.

There are two choices here:

The Spurs are a well-run organization that will manage this crisis as effectively as possible.

or

The Spurs will outright refuse to trade Leonard to a Western Conference team.

It can’t be both.

If the Spurs trade Leonard, they should take the best offer they get – no matter who makes it. Teams like the Celtics and 76ers have better assets to dangle. But if the Lakers and Clippers are the only team with assurances Leonard will re-sign next summer, they could offer more, even assembling a package from a shallower pool of assets.

The Spurs shouldn’t worry where Leonard lands. But that doesn’t mean they won’t worry where Leonard lands.

Report: Celtics believe Kyrie Irving happy in Boston

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Chris Mannix reported Kyrie Irving, when he played for the Cavaliers, told teammates of his desire to play for the Knicks. In the same discussion, Mannix speculated on the Celtics’ fear of Irving leaving in 2019 unrestricted free agency. Asked about his future in Boston, Irving gave a cryptic answer.

There’s just no good way to resolve this until summer 2019. As Irving knows, a contract extension is illogical. The largest extension he could sign, beginning July 1, would be four years, $108,053,240 ($27,013,310 annually). If he waits until 2019 free agency, he could re-sign for a projected $188 million over five years (about $38 million annually) – and even more if he makes an All-NBA team next year. In that case, his max would project to be $219 million over five years (about $44 million annually).

So, the Celtics must ride this out – or trade Irving before he gets to free agency. How do they feel about his future with Boston?

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

A league source said Friday that the Celtics believe Irving is happy in Boston and would like to be with the team long-term, but that there are no certainties.

This is probably correct. Irving clearly wanted out of Cleveland, so him longing for a spot on the Knicks made more sense then. Overall, Irving seems happy in Boston. A noncommittal answer from someone whose brand is mysterious ideas doesn’t set off alarms.

That said, also file this under: What else are they supposed to say? The Celtics maximize Irving’s trade value if everyone believes he’s happy and not a flight risk who should be preemptively traded.

The Celtics must closely monitor Irving’s satisfaction with them. If it seems he might leave, they ought to look hard at trading him first.

But it really seems the Celtics aren’t anywhere near that point. If they are, they’ve bluffed well.

J.R. Smith’s Game 1 Finals jersey up for auction

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It was the moment that defined the 2018 NBA Finals.

The score was tied with 4.7 seconds left when George Hill missed his second of two free throws, but J.R. Smith made an impressive play to get the offensive rebound — then tried to dribble out the clock like the Cavaliers were ahead.

Now, you can own Smith’s Game 1 jersey — the one he was wearing when he made a play so thoughtless LeBron James broke his own hand punching a whiteboard in frustration over it. It’s available on the NBA auction site. The bidding goes on for three more days, until June 21.

As of Monday morning, the current bid is $3000.

A Warriors’ fan is going to buy this thing, not a Cavaliers fan. They are still trying to repress this memory.

Kevin Durant’s dad wrote him a nice letter for Father’s Day

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Kevin Durant and his father didn’t have the best relationship growing up. Wayne Pratt, father of the Golden State Warriors star, left Durant and his family when the sharpshooting Finals MVP was just one year old.

Pratt was in and out of Durant’s life, and eventually they reconciled. Now, Pratt is important part of Durant’s career and business decisions.

As several players decided to celebrate their fathers and the national day of recognition on social media, it was actually Pratt who decided to write a letter to his son. In a post on The Undefeated, Pratt spoke about how he was grateful to have Durant as a son and to have reconciled with him.

Via The Undefeated:

I regret missing out on your first day of school, your first haircut, holidays and the first day you picked up a basketball. But I thank God daily for creating the opportunity for us to reconnect. I’m so thankful for you opening your heart at such a tender time. Every parent-child relationship has its ups and downs and we are no exception. I feel fortunate that we have learned how to successfully navigate life’s mistakes. Thank you for forgiving me and allowing us to have the great relationship we have today.

Go back and read the full letter, it’s worth it. Seeing the vulnerability between two grown men living a real, complicated, and adult situation like this is humanizing. Plus, it appears to have had a positive ending for Durant and his pops.

Hope all you dads out there had a good one on Sunday.