CLEVELAND -- As he has throughout his short career, LeBron James combined basketball with business acumen Wednesday by
accepting less than the maximum contract offered by the Cleveland
It wasn't a hometown discount. By taking $20 million less, James
could cash in later.
The 21-year-old agreed to a three-year contract extension worth
about $60 million, which will keep the All-Star forward with the
Cavaliers through the 2009-10 season. It includes a player option
for a fourth year.
James' extension is for two fewer years than the deal the Cavs
offered, a five-year package worth about $80 million.
By the summer of 2010, James will be a seven-year veteran with
the option of seeking a new contract as an unrestricted free agent,
making him eligible to negotiate a maximum contract worth 30
percent of the salary cap. Players with less than seven years
experience can earn only 25 percent of the cap.
"LeBron looked at this very deeply and understood the
complexity of what the situation was," his agent, Leon Rose, said
in an interview on the Cavaliers' Web site. "In the end, this
works out very well for him and puts him in a position to
accomplish all of his goals, both on the court and off."
A shorter deal made more sense because of the league's
collective bargaining agreement, James said.
"We did extensive research and with the way the CBA is set up,
it makes the most business sense to sign this extension and then
look at another new contract in four years," James said.
For Cleveland sports fans worried that James eventually will
leave town like other big name athletes such as Manny Ramirez and
Jim Thome, they have one consolation -- the Cavaliers have four
years left to win a championship with the 6-foot-8 superstar.
Cleveland hasn't celebrated a title since the 1964 Browns won the
"If I didn't believe in this team and this organization and the
direction that we're headed, I wouldn't have signed the
extension," James said.
The contract, which James has yet to sign, will take effect
after the 2006-07 season. He will earn $5.8 million next season,
the last year of his rookie contract.
Although James announced Saturday that he had agreed to an
extension with the Cavs, terms couldn't be finalized until
Wednesday, when the NBA's moratorium on free agency ended. With
James traveling on the West Coast, no formal news conference was
General manager Danny Ferry said the Cavaliers understand why
the five-year maximum contract wasn't best for James.
"This allows LeBron to maximize his value while wearing a
Cavaliers uniform. LeBron is an intelligent young man," Ferry
said. "He did his due diligence and is excited about continuing to
play with the Cavaliers and from our perspective his presence is
Ferry wasn't concerned that James could leave after four
"Based on the direction we're headed, we're confident we'll
still be in a great position when that time comes," Ferry said.
James, who's from nearby Akron, has resurrected a franchise that
has never reached the NBA Finals. With James hitting winning shots
in the playoffs, the Cavaliers came within one victory of beating
Detroit and reaching the Eastern Conference finals.
The Cavs' turnaround began when they won the 2003 draft lottery
and selected James with the No. 1 overall pick out of St.
Vincent-St. Mary High School. Since then, James has scored more
points, handed out more assists and grabbed more rebounds at a
younger age than any player in NBA history.
Last season, James became just the fourth player to average at
least 31.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists, joining Oscar
Robertson, Jerry West and Michael Jordan. He was voted the youngest
All-Star game MVP in history, and finished runner-up to Phoenix's
Steve Nash for league MVP.
"Now we need to continue to bring in the players to complement
LeBron in our quest for an NBA title," said Ferry, who plans to
try to re-sign restricted free agent power forward Drew Gooden.
With James' extension looming, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert did
everything he could to keep his top player and fan attraction.
Last summer, Cleveland spent millions on free agents Larry
Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones and re-signed center
Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Gilbert also renovated Quicken Loans Arena,
upgrading the Cavs' locker room and remodeling a family area partly
to accommodate the overflow of James' supporters at every home
The club also is building a $20 million training facility in
suburban Independence, a short drive from James' home.