CLEVELAND — Cavaliers forward LeBron James finally broke his silence Tuesday about his impending foray into free agency.
The two-time NBA MVP told CNN’s Larry King that Cleveland “absolutely” has an edge over the league’s 29 other teams when he hits the open market July 1.
James subsequently explained why the Cavaliers have the best chance of signing him during an interview taped at his Bath Township mansion. “Because, you know, this city, these fans, I mean, have given me a lot in these seven years,” the top overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft said. “And you know, for me, it’s comfortable. So I’ve got a lot of memories here, and so it does have an edge.”
The complete interview, featuring James playing H-O-R-S-E against the 76-year-old talk show host in his front yard, will air Friday at 9 p.m. on “Larry King Live.”
In order to build interest in the program, Turner Broadcasting released limited details about the chat, which includes James’ first public comments since Cleveland was eliminated from the playoffs May 13.
James also said he can’t wait for July 1 to arrive and that he has not yet decided where he’ll sign.
“I’m far from close,” he was quoted as saying in a transcript posted on WEWS-TV’s website in Cleveland. “July is still a month away, less than a month away. I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t began to strategize exactly.”
James also made his first comments about former Cavs coach Mike Brown, who was fired in the aftermath of Cleveland’s startling loss to the Celtics. James said he was sorry to see Brown let go after five seasons.
“He was a great coach, five great years we had together and we turned a franchise that hadn’t seen a lot of things in a lot of years,” James said.
“But ultimately, we both, myself and Mike Brown, didn’t accomplish what we wanted to, and that was (win) the NBA championship. And I think we wanted it more than anybody else.
“So it’s unfortunate. I wish him the best and I think he’s going to have a great coaching career.”
James plans to meet with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others in a star-studded summit of free agents to talk about their future plans.
“I am the ringleader,” James told King.
And while he’ll consult with advisers, family and friends, James said the choice of his next team will be up to one person.
“It’s going to be me,” he said. “I’m going to have to sit down and say, ‘Where do you want to play?’” James last spoke with the media following the Cavaliers’ season-ending loss in Boston and has declined all interview requests since. He did judge an amateur dunk contest Saturday in downtown Cleveland — presented by one of his sponsors — but was hustled in and out of his vehicle by security. The King interview also marks the first time James has discussed his free-agent plans since Nov. 11, when he said he was keeping quiet to stop creating “any more distractions for my teammates, for my organization, for my family.”
James has three potential paths to choose from, none of which has changed in nearly a year.
◾ Until June 30, he can pick up the $17.2 million, one-season option on his current contract with the Cavaliers, or let it lapse and become a free agent. James could have activated that option last summer, but has shown no desire to do so.
◾ On July 8, James could resign with Cleveland for up to six years and $125.5 million, or ink a deal elsewhere for five years and $96.1 million. There is a seven-day signing moratorium at the start of free agency on July 1, theoretically giving all teams an equal chance to negotiate with top players.
◾ Or he can verbally agree to join another team, but allow the Cavaliers to negotiate a sign-and-trade agreement. That would enable Cleveland to obtain some compensation for James, who could earn the larger, six-year, $125.5 million pact as part of the deal.
In the meantime, James and other potential free agents will be permitted to hold a “free agent summit,” should they choose to, according to NBA commissioner David Stern. There had been speculation that a multiplayer meeting would be illegal under the league’s anti-collusion guidelines.
Appearing on an NBA.com podcast, Stern said: “All right, let’s have a summit. Let’s talk. We’ll count our rings, (but what they will) really have to talk about is: Where can I go to win? We can put great teams together in many different ways, not just through free agency, but this summit, I just think it’s an amusing public relations issue.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.