AP source: LeBron speaks with Cavs as free agency opens
Representatives from the team will meet Sunday with James’ agent Rich Paul in Los Angeles, a person familiar with the plans told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.
James, who returned to Los Angeles from vacation Saturday before NBA free agency opened, will not take part in the meeting, the person said.
The Sixers can offer James a chance to play alongside budding, young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as well as stay in the Eastern Conference, where the path to the NBA Finals is far easier than out West.
Philadelphia hasn’t hid its desire to land James, a three-time champion who would instantly make the club a championship contender. Earlier this season, James was flattered when a Pennsylvania company paid for three billboards in Ohio urging James to come to Philadelphia, where the club has been abiding by a ”Trust The Process” mantra while rebuilding.
The 76ers’ contingent was to be led by their ownership group headed by Josh Harris and David Blitzer, a person with knowledge of the details told AP. The 76ers recently parted ways with general manager Bryan Colangelo and their basketball operations are currently being overseen by coach Brett Brown.
Paul also represents Simmons and James has been complimentary of the Rookie of the Year.
Earlier Sunday, James had contact with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are hoping to hang onto the best player in franchise history.
Shortly after the 12:01 EDT a.m. start to free agency, Cavs general manager Koby Altman spoke on the phone to both James and Paul, the person said.
James is also being pursued by the Lakers, who have enough salary-cap space to sign him and another star player.
While there was a feverish flurry of activity involving big-named players in the opening hour of what has been billed as the Summer of LeBron, James did not announce where he’ll play next season and it’s not known if other moves, such as Paul George staying in Oklahoma City and Chris Paul staying in Houston, have affected his thinking.
The meeting with the 76ers was first reported by ESPN.
James isn’t expected to drag his choice out over several days. He knows what he wants and he’s very familiar with the Cavaliers after leading them to four straight NBA Finals since returning as a free agent in 2014 following four seasons in Miami. Because they own his ”Bird rights” the Cavs can offer James more money than any other team – a five-year, $207 million deal.
But the 33-year-old has interests beyond basketball and the massive Los Angeles market would give him a bigger stage and platform.
The Lakers have a young, talented but inexperienced roster and they were hoping to land both James and possibly George. But the All-Star forward opted to stick with the Thunder and will sign a four-year deal when teams are permitted to finalize contracts on June 6.
George’s choice could sway James to sign a short-term deal with Cleveland, but the Lakers are determined to get their hands on the four-time MVP.
The Cavs, on the other hand, have been mostly operating in the dark. While there had been dialogue between Paul and Altman since the season ended, James had not given the team any sense of his plans. That’s made it tough for Cleveland to upgrade its roster, but the Cavs remain committed to bringing back James even for just one more year.
On Friday, James formally became a free agent when he informed the Cavs he would not exercise his $35.6 million contract option for next season, making him an unrestricted free agent and the prize catch in the 2018 class.
Now that some of the early dust has settled, the battle for him appears to be down to two teams: Cleveland vs. Los Angeles.
Home vs. Hollywood.
Wine-and-gold vs. Purple-and-gold.
But while the Cavs and Lakers appear to be the front-runners for James, the Sixers aren’t ready to give up the fight. Well, at least young and outspoken center Embiid isn’t.
Embiid posted a message on Twitter that seemed to be directed at No. 23 and what it might be like to walk in the footsteps of Lakers legends like Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Shaquille O’Neal.
”The Lakers are FOREVER gonna be Kobe’s and Magic’s team,” Embiid wrote, referring to Kobe Bryant and Johnson. ”Process that.”
George’s move has given James more to process, but the chance to restore Los Angeles to prominence may be just what he needs at this point in his career. And while he has long been compared to Michael Jordan, Johnson is the one whose game more closely resembles his own.
For now, though, he’s not attached to anyone.
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.