LeBron James agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, ending his second run as the face of his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
James, born in Akron and drafted No. 1 by the Cavs in 2003, is leaving the Cavs for the second time in eight seasons. But this time, it’s two-years removed from bringing the organization its first title.
James’ agreement with the Lakers was announced through a simple press release sent by his agent, Rich Paul, which says James, a 14-time All-Star, three-time Finals MVP, and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was joining the Lakers.
“Thank you Northeast Ohio for an incredible 4 seasons,” James said in a message on his Instagram account. “This will always be home.”
James also posted to Instagram the message “see you soon,” — a reference to the opening of his public school through the Akron school district and his LeBron James Family Foundation, which is set for the end of this month.
And that’s it. A source close to LeBron said there will be no press conference in Los Angeles, no on-stage celebrating. Nothing that will take Cleveland fans back to that fateful July night in 2010 when he said on ESPN he was taking his talents to South Beach.
James has grown since then. So has the city he’s leaving again, if not in sheer numbers then in spirit, in no small part because of the four years James gave the Cavs the second time around.
A spokesman for the Cavs said it was to be determined whether an official statement was coming from team owner Dan Gilbert or general manager Koby Altman.
The Cavs could have given James a five-year, $207 million contract — so he’s leaving $54 million on the table to go to Los Angeles — where he has a home.
Altman spoke to James and Paul by phone at 12:01 a.m., and Paul sat later with the 76ers. Lakers president Magic Johnson met with James and Paul at James’ home not long after the call with the Cavs. James’ contract with the Lakers includes a player’s option for the final year.
LeBron is leaving an Eastern Conference where he was reigned like few others in the history of the sport, reaching the Finals for eight consecutive seasons.
In his four years since returning to Cleveland, James averaged 26 points with 7.7 rebounds and 8.0 assists, pushing the franchise.
His best statistical season was the last, where his 27.5 points were the most since 2010 (an ominous sign, it turns out) and he tied a career high with 8.6 boards and set a new best with 9.1 assists. He was the runner-up for NBA MVP and was the All-Star MVP for the game in…you guessed it, L.A.
James, 33, has played 11 total seasons with the Cavs and 15 overall, pushing Cleveland to five Finals — counting the franchise’s first trip in 2007.
The last time James scored this many points in a season, he left and joined the Heat. Only, when he returned to the Cavs in 2014, he said at least four times he would not do this very thing — leave the Cavs again.
In a sitdown interview with CNN in 2014, James said “I plan on finishing my career back home.” In his Sports Illustrated essay announcing his return, he said “I always believed I’d return to Cleveland finish my career there.” At his homecoming celebration at the University of Akron, he told roughly 30,000 screaming fans: “I don’t plan on going nowhere. I don’t have the energy to do it again.”
And last September, he said his intention to remain with the Cavs “hasn’t changed.” Who knows when we’ll learn precisely when James shifted his thinking.
James was upset all season that the Cavs traded Kyrie Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, two other players, and two draft picks, including Brooklyn’s No. 1 pick — which the Cavs used to select point guard Collin Sexton.
The Cavs changed their entire roster last summer and again at the trade deadline in February. James carried that team — the one with George Hill and Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr — to the Finals for the fourth consecutive season.
But Cleveland was swept in the Finals by the Warriors, one year after Golden State took the Finals from the Cavs in five games (and they still had Irving).
In April, James told cleveland.com his free agency would largely be a family decision — something he reiterated after the 2018 Finals.
But James also said after the Finals that he wanted to stay in “championship mode.” Most observers agreed the Cavs were not in a position to take down the Warriors in the Finals, but it’s unclear right now how James plans to even get to the Finals with the Lakers.
Los Angeles is in the same conference as Golden State. The Lakers lost out on potential free agents Paul George and Chris Paul, who signed max contracts with their respective, old teams, and both were linked as possible teammates for James on the Lakers.
Los Angeles has no other star at present. Lonzo Ball is there. So is a significant amount of cap space (to sign a player like DeMarcus Cousins) and the possibility — however remote — of trading for Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs, a star who wants to join James in L.A.
James leaves behind a legacy unmatched in the city of Cleveland for a Lakers franchise that has all kinds of historic, NBA greats just like LeBron — from his new boss, Magic Johnson, to Kobe Bryant, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.