The 76ers' top off-season target has informed his current team that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent.
LeBron James told the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday that he will not exercise his $35.4 million option for the 2018-19 season. The small forward had until 11:59 p.m. to formerly opt out or opt in the final year of his contract.
This comes one day after another Sixers free-agent target Paul George told his current team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, that he would opt out of his $20.7 million deal for next season.
By opting out, the Sixers, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers appear to be his likely destinations in free agency. The Houston Rockets' best chance to acquire him would have been via a sign-and-trade due to not having the available cap space to sign him to a max deal. Under a sign-and-trade, James would have to opt into his final year with Cleveland then be traded to the Rockets.
Among other A-list targets, the Sixers are also looking to trade for San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard, hopefully before free agency begins at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.
The thought is that acquiring Leonard could increase their chances of signing James in free agency. The two could be a part of a powerful foursome with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
The problem is that Leonard really wants to go his hometown Lakers via a trade this off-season or in free agency next summer. As a result, the Sixers know there's a chance that he could become a one-year rental. However, he has family members in New Jersey. Leonard has relationships with Sixers head coach Brett Brown and top assistant coach Monty Williams from their time with the Spurs organization. So there's a hope that he could change his mind after spending a season with those familiar faces..
However, James would be eligible to sign a five-year, $205 million free-agent deal with Cleveland this summer. His max salary would be $152 million over four years if he signs with another team.
He could opt to sign a "one-and-one deal," a one-year contract for the 2018-19 season with a player option for 2019-20. That would enable him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, if he doesn't opt in.
Right now, the Sixers have practical salary-cap space of $30.5 million for the upcoming season. That does not include the first-year salaries for the unsigned contracts of first-round picks Zhaire Smith ($2.58 million) and Landry Shamet ($1.68 million). The Sixers would have to have $35.4 million in cap space to sign James to a max contract.