Would current Los Angeles Lakers All-NBA forward LeBron James be amenable to a third tour of duty with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that drafted him first overall out of St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in 2003? James himself declared during the 2022 All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, "The door's not closed on that." He heaped praise on team president Koby Altman, saying, "I think Koby and those guys have done an unbelievable job drafting and making trades.” And now we have some fresh intel that the feeling could be mutual.
James, after all, won two of his four MVP awards playing for Cleveland clubs that made deep playoff runs from 2003-2010. He returned from 2014-2018, and took the Cavaliers to four straight NBA Finals appearances during that window, including one victory. That win: the Cavaliers memorably clawed back from a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors to win in 2016. He also took an undermanned Cavs team to the 2007 Finals during his initial stint with the franchise, though that team got swept.
Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com informed HoopsHype's Michael Scotto during a recent installment of The HoopsHype Podcast
Last season, the Cavaliers enjoyed their first season with a record over .500 since James's departure for the Lakers. Cleveland finished with a 44-38 record, and saw young point guard Darius Garland and young center Jarrett Allen both make their first All-Star teams. Unfortunately, with Allen sidelined due to injury, Cleveland would fail to advance beyond the play-in tournament.
This summer, the Cavaliers made a big play for their future, trading guard Collin Sexton, forward Lauri Markkanen, 2022 lottery selection Ochai Agbaji, three future first-round draft picks and two future draft pick swaps in exchange for three-time All-Star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. The most promising player on the team just might be one who didn't even make the All-Star roster last season: second-year big man Evan Mobley. The team does have a bit of a deficit at small forward for now, with Isaac Okoro and Caris LeVert most likely to duke it out for starting honors.
Not including cap holds, Cleveland currently has $109.3 million in committed salaries on its books for the summer of 2024, when James could opt out of the final season of his Lakers deal. If Altman finds a way to move off point guard Ricky Rubio's $6.4 million salary that summer without incurring returning guaranteed money, that could help carve out more space under the NBA's estimated salary cap. Under current projections, that would leave the Cavaliers with around $40.1 million to sign James, far less than his maximum market value.
Would James, who would be turning 40 during the 2024-25 NBA season, consider taking a significant discount to compete for another title in Cleveland? Time will tell, but this young core could certainly become something special in the next few years.