LeBron James & Contract Options: What you need to know — Terry Pluto

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Talking to myself about the contract situation of LeBron James as he ponders free agency:QUESTION: Will James pick up his play option for $36.5 million by the June 29 deadline?ANSWER: I talked to some NBA executives and checked the labor contract to put together this breakdown of the different options available to the Cavaliers star. There is almost a zero chance James will pick up that option.Q: Didn’t Chris Paul pick up his one-year player-option with the Clippers last summer?A: He did. But the only reason was to set up a trade to Houston.Q: Why wouldn’t James do the same if he wants to play elsewhere?A: I guess it’s possible, but James has always wanted complete flexibility. If he wants to go somewhere, he’ll just go as a free agent.Q: What about the old-fashioned “sign-and-trade” deals?A: They exists, but the parts that were helpful to players are mostly gone. It’s is complicated, but I doubt James will be any part of a “sign-and-trade.”Q: What he if wants to stay one more year in Cleveland?A: Then he’ll do another 1-and-1 contract. In this deal, he’d sign for the maximum amount — a projected $36 million in 2018-19. But he’d add a player option for the maximum in 2019-20 — about $37 million.Q: What’s the point?A: He has two years of protection, but can leave after a single season. Suppose James signed a 1-and-1 contract for next season — and he suffered a career-ending injury in December. He still would be paid $73 million…the 1-and-1…as he’d pick up his player option even if he could not play.Q: Wasn’t James the first to do those 1-and-1 contracts?A: I believe so. He is with Klutch Sports Agency, where Rich Paul is the agent. The contract negotiator is Mark Termini, a Cleveland native and veteran sports attorney. Other NBA people told me that Termini came up with that idea.Q: Do you think there will be a trade involving James?A: Not likely. Since coming to the Cavs, he’s had a no-trade clause and he will continue to have a no-trade clause in any new deal. He is the best player in the NBA. He can dictate his terms.Q: Why not sign a long-term maximum contract with the Cavs?A: James is finishing a 2-and-1 contract. He played two years on a deal signed after the 2016 title. He has the option for this season. He has to at least consider the maximum because Cleveland can pay him more than anyone else.Q: How does that work?A: There is a home court advantage for free agents. The Cavs can offer James a maximum deal of about $205 million for five years. If he goes to another team, the most he can be paid is about $152 million for four years.Q: Can’t he wait another year, then sign a 5-year deal with the Cavs?A: No. To secure that 5-year maximum, he has to sign this summer. A player who signs the long-term maximum contract must have it end by the time he’s 38.Q: Say what?A: James is 33 years old. His 5-year deal with the Cavs would end by the time he’s 38. If he waits until next summer to sign the big maximum contract — it can only be four years. That’s because he’ll be 34 next summer and the contract must end when he’s 38.