MIAMI – LeBron James is heading back to free agency.
James told the Miami Heat he is opting out of the final two years of his contract, his agent, Rich Paul, told the Associated Press Tuesday. And with that, James will become a free agent July 1.
“I have informed the Heat,” Paul said.
That does not mean James is leaving Miami – but there’s no guarantee that he’ll be in a Heat uniform next season, either. A person briefed on the matter and familiar with James’ thinking told AP that he has not decided where he will play next season.
“There’s no other decision yet,” that person said.
James addressed the lure of having flexibility last week in his exit interview after the Heat lost to San Antonio in the NBA Finals. And he will have plenty of it now.
Among his options: He could leave Miami entirely, join another team if he feels that better positions himself to win more championships, or sign a longer-term deal in Miami and afford the Heat some financial flexibility of their own in relation to the salary cap and luxury tax.
“Being able to have flexibility as a professional, anyone, that’s what we all would like,” James said last week. “That’s in any sport, for a football player, a baseball player, a basketball player, to have flexibility and be able to control your future or your present. I have a position to be able to do that. … There’s a lot of times that you’re not in control of your future as a professional.”
The other two Miami stars with early termination options – Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – have not yet told the Heat or publicly revealed whether they will join James as free agents this summer. Bosh and James both said last week that the three would meet before deciding anything about their respective futures, and it’s been widely speculated they might have to rework their deals to keep the “Big 3” together in Miami.
The Heat were not caught offguard or surprised by James’ move.
“Players have a right to free agency and when they have these opportunities, the right to explore their options,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “The last four seasons have been historic and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Erik Spoelstra have led the Miami Heat to one of the most unprecedented runs in the history of the NBA. We look forward to sitting down with LeBron and his representatives and talking about our future together.”
James, Wade and Bosh each signed six-year deals when they famously teamed up in Miami in 2010, and all of those deals came with options to become free agents either this summer or in the summer of 2015. Together, they’ve won four Eastern Conference titles and two NBA championships, winning more games than any other team in the league over that span.
“There’s a conversation that will be had between the three of us,” James said last week. “I think it’s only right. I think we’ve earned that for each other, to have a conversation and see what could possibly happen.”
James had about $42.7 million remaining on his deal with the Heat. He came to Miami in 2010 after spending his first seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the free agent dealings that summer, James said, was the “craziest summer I’ve ever been a part of.”
This one might have a similar feel. James’ wife posted a photo depicting Akron, Ohio - their hometown - to her Instagram account Sunday night, and that set off a social-media frenzy, even though it was only related to her annual trip home for the summer.