As for the possibility that James teams up with Chris Paul this summer, per Shelburne and Windhorst, "League sources called the concept that James and Paul want to spend their golden years as teammates an overstated assumption."
James apparently wasn't in the mood Thursday for any potential questions about signing with the Lakers, according to Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:
As Shelburne and Windhorst noted, NBA teams that pursue James in free agency have hurdles to overcome.
The Lakers will have the cap space for one max deal, but if they want to bring in a second max player—and the obvious choice would be Paul George—they'll need to get rid of Luol Deng's huge contract. That won't be easy unless they waive-and-stretch him, essentially allowing them to get him off the roster while paying his contract over five years rather than two, significantly lowering his cap hit each season in the process.
The stretch provision allows teams to pay out a contract over twice the duration of the remaining years on that contract plus one additional season, so Deng's two years remaining could be stretched and paid out over the next five years.
They could also make trades to move on from Jordan Clarkson and a few other players, potentially gutting their depth in the process.
The Philadelphia 76ers don't have the cap space to offer James the max, though they could get close by eliminating Jerryd Bayless' $8.6 million contract for next season.
The Sixers' cap space is complicated for other reasons, as Derek Bodner of The Athletic analyzed in-depth in November. Two key factors to consider: First, if Joel Embiid "wins MVP or is voted to the All-NBA first team, he's eligible to receive 30 percent of the Sixers' cap rather than 25 percent, costing the Sixers an additional $5.05 million in cap space."
The second factor is the Lakers pick that the Sixers own (unless it falls from picks No. 2-5, in which case it conveys to the Boston Celtics). If that pick improbably lands at No. 1 overall, the Sixers would have another $8 million or so on their books.
As much as the Sixers would love to make a splash by signing a player like James, the ability to draft top prospect Luka Doncic and potentially have him under team control for eight years alongside a young core of Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz would probably take precedence over keeping max cap space. The rest of the NBA would shudder at the possibility of that foursome.
The Rockets could get to max cap space, but signing James and retaining Paul would likely mean losing at least one of Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela in free agency, if not both. Other interested suitors may not have the cap space either.
And then there's Cleveland. On paper, the Cavaliers have a clear advantage. They can offer James the most money, it's his hometown team and the Cavaliers have a solid roster in place. Plus, they have Brooklyn's first-round pick, which they could consider dealing to bring in more veteran help.
On the other hand, much could depend on how James and Isaiah Thomas co-exist when the latter returns from injury. Yes, the Cavaliers could try to pair James with Paul in Cleveland or go after George, who they tried to trade for over the summer. A front line of James, George and Kevin Love would be fascinating and could give a team like the Golden State Warriors a run for its money.
But having Thomas in the building with time to create a rapport with James could make the pair more inclined to join forces again over the summer. Or it could make it obvious that the duo won't work. It's a double-edged sword for the Cavs.
One thing is clear: Much of the NBA will be held hostage until James makes his decision this summer.
"The most dangerous thing in the NBA is LeBron as a free agent," a league source told Shelburne and Windhorst.