By Marla Ridenour | Akron Beacon Journal
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — LeBron James dismissed as “nonsense” an ESPN report Thursday that he would entertain a conversation with the Golden State Warriors if he opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent in July.
“It’s nonsense, and it’s a non-story,” James said after practice Friday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “I think it’s a discredit to what I’m trying to do here. It’s a discredit to my teammates and the coaching staff here. My only focus right now is trying to figure out how we can become a championship-caliber team in these next few months.
“It’s been so many stories about me in the last few months, in the last few days, about where I’m going and where I’m at and what place I’m in. I’m here, I’m right here, I’m right now and this is my present. If you don’t hear something coming from my voice, then it’s not true. I don’t give a damn how close they are, I don’t care if it’s my kids or my wife or whatever. If it’s not from me, it’s not true.”
A story by former Cleveland.com Cavs beat writer Chris Haynes, now with ESPN, cited sources that said out of respect for the Warriors’ winning culture, James would listen if Golden State explored ways to clear the necessary cap space to give him a max contract. But in the scenario laid out, the Warriors would have to trade Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant would have to take less than max money.
James has been a free agent in 2010, ’14, ’15 and ’16. In the infamous “Decision” in 2010, he left Cleveland for the Miami Heat, where he spent four seasons. In 2014, he announced in a Sports Illustrated essay that he was coming home.
In July, James is expected to decline his $35.6 million player option and become an unrestricted free agent. He has never exercised a player option in the past. He could elect to remain with the Cavs, but speculation has been rampant that he will head to Los Angeles because he owns a second home there and is heavily involved in his SpringHill Entertainment business with partner Maverick Carter.
James said he won’t handle the offseason any differently than he has in the past.
“The story needs to be LeBron is focused on getting his team back to the Finals,” he said. “Not, oh, I’m angry about the Golden State story, or I’m angry about, what, the Lakers and Philly and Houston and San Antonio and Sacramento and Orlando and Miami and Toronto. I can name all 30 teams.
“My focus right now and I’m driven right now to figure out how we can put the right basketball (together) every single night to compete for a championship and get to the Finals for a fourth straight year. When the summer comes, you guys know how I approach my summer, how I approach my free agency. That has not changed. I will handle my summer situation when my summer gets here, and I will not handle it now.”
James said he woke up early Thursday and ate breakfast, then went back to bed. When he got up again he had an alert and a few texts about Haynes’ report.
“The first thing I did, I started laughing, actually,” James said.
That was the reaction of Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, who chuckled when the subject came up.
“Somebody told me about it, I’m not going to say any names, but, yeah, I heard about it,” Lue said. “No comment. I don’t know what I can say (to) not get in trouble, so no comment.”
James said he didn’t address the story with his teammates, but hates the fact that they have to endure endless speculation about his future.
“Not even like upset right now about it. I think it’s just a discredit to my teammates because I’m the leader of these guys and for them to have to hear that stuff every single day about my free agency, I apologize to them,” James said.
“For the rest of the season, please don’t ask me about nothing else, no other team, unless we’re competing against them the next night or to ask me about a highlight that happened the night before. Don’t ask me about being on another team, to my teammates here, my 14 teammates we come and work hard for, the coaching staff, and this fan base … “
James surely recognizes the effect that playing for the Warriors would have on his legacy. But he said he’s never talked about joining another team, before or during his previous free agency summers.
“I never said I would sit down with Golden State or sit down with anybody,” he said. “I’ve never talked about any other team throughout my journey. The only thing that bothers me is that people get to go on talk shows and discredit what I’m doing, saying, ‘Well, if he does this then this is the worst thing’ … ‘If he’s engaging in that, then it tarnishes his legacy.’
“That’s what bothers me because I have no control over that. What I can control is how I prepare myself every day with this group of guys. What I cannot control is these stories that come out. But what I will not allow is for people to kind of use my name — as we already know they do — for something that is a non-story. The Golden State thing is a non-story.”