LeBron James officially declined his $35.6 million player option on Friday morning and will become a free agent.
But what exactly are going to be the biggest factors in James’ decision? During the Finals he dropped some not-so-veiled hints about what he is looking for next season and what will factor into his decision.
First and foremost: his family. It’s common sense, but with his kids being older now, they will arguably play even more of a role in his decision this time around than they did back in 2014 when he came back. LeBron ‘Bronny’ James Jr. is entering eighth grade while his son Bryce just turned 11. After he returned to Cleveland, he and his wife Savannah also had a daughter, Zhuri.
“Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age,” James said following Game 4 of the Finals. “They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn’t around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that.”
It also certainly doesn’t hurt that Savannah’s family still lives in Akron as well as James’ mom Gloria.
But family aside, James also said post Finals that trying to win a championship after “starting a team from scratch” isn’t the most ideal thing. That, along with family, would seem to be a plus for Cleveland.
But when it comes to an area that the Cavs do have some reason to worry, it’s the fact that James says he is still in “championship mode.” The Cavs have won just one game in the Finals against the Warriors since their come-from-behind series victory in 2016. The possibility for any trade deal to help them realistically take down Golden State seems unlikely, whether because of the salary cap or because of other teams’ unwillingness to help them.
But even before the Finals ended, James made a point of pointing out his desire to play with “cerebral players.” He also said that was what prompted his free agent moves in both 2010 and 2014. So basically, while at the podium, he laid out for Koby Altman and company what they need to acquire in order to keep him.
“I still have so much to give to the game,” James said. “Like I said, when you have a goal and you’re able to accomplish that goal, it actually — for me personally, it made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships, and I still want to be in championship mode. I think I’ve shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.”
It’s arguable that James is at peace with whatever comes this July. When asked if he thought this summer would be the toughest decision he’s had to make regarding his career, James countered that 2010 was the toughest.
What his next move will be is unclear to all but his inner circle at this point. But while he may still be in championship mode, it seems like James thinks he doesn’t have anything left to prove as far as his legacy is concerned.
“I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” he said. “To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember. Honestly, I think we’ll all remember that. It ended a drought for Cleveland of 50-plus years, so I think we’ll all remember that in sports history.”