Miami Heat star LeBron James has exercised his early termination option, making him a free agent this summer, SB Nation has confirmed. The news was originally broken by ESPN:
LeBron James' agent Rich Paul has told Heat LeBron will exercise early termination option— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) June 24, 2014
James is the first of the Heat's Big Three to either opt out or opt in for next season. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also have early termination options in their contracts, and it's currently unclear what their plans are going forward.
LeBron's free agency decision, explained
By exercising an early termination option on his contract, LeBron James will be a free agent. Here's what that actually means.
With James opting out, teams will be lining up to make a pitch for his services, similar to the summer of 2010. The Houston Rockets have already expressed interest in making a major push for James, and teams like the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers may get involved as well. There are also sure to be rumors about James returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after he spurned them with "The Decision" in 2010.
However, just because the four-time MVP is becoming a free agent, that doesn't necessarily mean he's leaving Miami. James could be opting out just in order to sign a new long-term contract, and there's always the potential of him taking less money in order to create more flexibility for Miami. The Heat will be looking to retool around the Big Three this summer, and getting James and his other cohorts to take a bit less would help the chances to improve the roster.
On the other hand, James might not be willing to take a pay cut this time around, and this may be a power play by the Heat star:
LeBron James will opt-out of deal, source confirms. He's determined to impose pressure on Miami to improve roster and spend, sources say.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 24, 2014
Despite winning two straight titles, the Heat didn't exactly go all out in terms of spending to improve the roster this past year. Mike Miller was amnestied in order to reduce Miami's luxury tax bill, and the mini mid-level exception of $3.2 million was never used. The Heat also used multiple draft picks to sell off Joel Anthony in order to reduce tax payments.
Even if it's likely that James stays in Miami, the fact that he has opted out and not opted in has made what was already expected to be a crazy offseason a bit more nutty.