We're almost a month into NBA free agency, and all the big names signed their deals long ago -- except for the biggest of them all. LeBron James remains a free agent, much to the confusion of the basketball-watching population. And it's easy to see why fans would be perplexed. On the surface, there's no real reason for LeBron's deal to have taken this long. But when you dig into LeBron's logic, things start to make a lot more sense. Here are the five simple reasons the King has taken his sweet time putting pen to paper in Cleveland.
Getty ImagesJamie Sabau
He's contemplating what type of deal to sign
LeBron has a seemingly simple decision to make. He can come back on another one-year deal with a player option for a second season, putting off his long-term contract until the salary cap reaches its peak in 2017. Or he can sign a longer deal now and lock in guaranteed money and a slightly higher base salary for next season -- starting at about $3 million more than he would otherwise make in the same season on a one-year deal. The rules are complicated, but it boils down to "Bird rights." If LeBron wants a longer deal, then the Cavs can use their early Bird rights to pay him more money beyond the current salary cap. If he wants a one-year deal, however, league rules prevent him from signing for anything more than 120 percent of last year's salary. That's a lot to consider, and LeBron's wise to take all the time he needs.
NBAE/Getty ImagesIssac Baldizon
He's considering what a potential lockout would mean
$3 million is a lot of money, and that difference is something LeBron will contemplate. There's a bigger consideration here, though, and it has to do with NBA superteams. In December, either the league or the players' union likely will opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement. If NBA owners are truly sick of superstars joining forces, they can make a simple rule change in the CBA that would eliminate such superteams: Take away the max contract. If you pay a guy like LeBron half of your salary cap, rather than the current max of 35 percent, there's not enough money to go around for multiple stars. On the flip side, LeBron might want to make more money next season if he thinks a lockout looms. It's an unlikely gambit, but the longer he waits, the more information he can gather on which way the labor winds are blowing.
He's trying to squeeze every last bit of talent out of this roster
The list of available free agents is pretty paltry, but there are still players out there who can help a team. And with Golden State stockpiling superstar talent and vets on minimum deals, LeBron is going to need all the help he can get next season. And the season after that. And the season after that. Of course, the possible upgrades are marginal, so this isn't the weightiest subject on LeBron's plate. Yet if the Cavs can somehow find the right pieces in the remainder of this offseason -- say, maybe convincing Ray Allen to come back as a 3-point specialist off the bench, or bringing David Lee in on a minimum deal to take up space with the reserves -- maybe that changes LeBron's thinking. Either way, as long as he stays coy, the Cavs will feel the pressure.
NBAE/Getty ImagesDavid Liam Kyle
He's waiting to see what happens with J.R. Smith
The best available free agent (not named LeBron James)? That would be the Cavs' own J.R. Smith. He reportedly wants $15 million per year, but Cleveland likely is waiting to see if anyone else is going to approach that number before it gets down to brass tacks with Smith. That shouldn't upset LeBron, so long as the negotiations stay civil. He more than anyone understands that this is a business. But if the Cavs try to lowball LeBron's figurative little brother, that might not bode well for James' relationship with his hometown team.
NBAE/Getty ImagesDavid Liam Kyle
He's enjoying a well-earned vacation from all things basketball
LeBron's entire basketball career was build-up to the moment when he brought a championship home to Cleveland. It took everything he and the Cavs had; even then, they had to stare down a daunting 3-1 deficit before turning things around. That's an emotionally, physically, and spiritually draining accomplishment. LeBron is enjoying his time off, letting the rest of the NBA world spin violently beneath him while he floats on cloud nine. The minute he puts his name on his next contract in Cleveland -- and he will, Cavs fans, don't worry -- everything shifts to thinking about next season. For now, he's chilling.