It’s already the summer of LeBron and free agency hasn’t even started. The superstar informed the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday morning that he will opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
The decision itself isn’t surprising. Though, James informing Cleveland of the decision so early in the day may be a sign that he’s narrowed his options down to a couple teams. It’s also a clear indication that he was not working on potential trades with the idea of opting in and forcing a deal from the Cavaliers.
While that’s certainly good news for Cleveland, the opposite can be said for other teams that don’t have the cash to sign him outright. Among those teams, LeBron’s decision to become a free agent has a negative impact on the Houston Rockets.
James’s decision to opt out makes a potential trade with the Rockets less likely. It helps the Lakers, who would like to use their existing assets to make a Kawhi Leonard trade, and use their cap space to make James a max contract offer.
— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) June 29, 2018
Houston has been interested in the idea of teaming James up with best pal Chris Paul and former NBA MVP James Harden. The only real avenue to this happening was James deciding to opt into his contract, only to force a trade to the Rockets.
The Rockets are currently about $20 million under the cap. That doesn’t includes 2018-19 salary holds for free agents Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela. Adding those to the mix, and Houston finds itself $42-plus million over the cap.
In order to even create enough room to sign James outright, Houston would have to renounce both Ariza and Capela. It would then also have to find a way to dump the contracts of Ryan Anderson ($20.4 million), Eric Gordon ($13.5 million) and P.J. Tucker ($7.9 million) while signing Paul to a deal that’s less than the max. He’s not said to be open to that idea.
There’s still certainly a chance that Cleveland and Houston can work out a sign-and-trade for LeBron. But the much likelier scenario was James deciding to opt into his contract with his eyes set on a trade to the Rockets. It’s the same situation that we saw with Chris Paul and the Rockets last summer. That’s now highly unlikely to happen.