James has until June 29 to exercise the $35.6 million player's option on his contract for next season, and if he lets it pass then he's an unrestricted free agent who could still return to Cleveland.
In other words, James has all kinds of time to figure out where he wants to play next season. General manager Koby Altman, who will run his first draft on Thursday, has about four days to decide about his No. 8 pick.
According to sources, the Cavs' front office and James' camp have been in contact over the phone and in person, though there has been no meeting with James present, nor has there been any real dialogue as far as James' future is concerned.
Because the superstar himself doesn't know.
The Cavs have been signaling (strongly, in some cases) that they're looking to upgrade their team from the group that was swept out of the Finals this month, whether James stays or goes.
They are taking calls from teams looking to move up in the draft via trade, and are seeking proven NBA vets whose presence would both improve the roster and be enticing to James.
They've also been "obsessed" with the draft since acquiring Brooklyn's pick from the Celtics last summer for Kyrie Irving, so using it to take a player for themselves is of course a very real possibility.
Cleveland has in fact inquired about Kawhi Leonard's availability from the Spurs, among others, and league sources suggested Charlotte's Kemba Walker could be in play for the Cavs.
Because of league rules, Cleveland must make its pick on Thursday, but could trade it immediately or sign the player and then wait 30 days to trade him — like the Cavs did when they drafted Andrew Wiggins No. 1 overall in 2014 and traded him for Kevin Love.
"I guess you're walking into the wilderness of the unknown, where you are at eight, and how do you block out the draft compared to LeBron's decision eight days later and how do you try to separate it," said former Nets assistant general manager Bobby Marks, who's now an analyst for ESPN.
"I think the hard part for Koby would come where what happens when there is a potential trade that is presented to him and he can bring back players, NBA players," Marks said. "If that's the case, it maybe happens Thursday night, and how do you go about doing it without a commitment from LeBron? What's the communication process like between the front office and LeBron in a scenario like that?"
Marks appears to be speaking from the conventional wisdom that a team like the Cavs, who are in luxury-tax hell with the salary cap but have gone to four straight Finals with James, would tear it all down and save as much money as they can if James leaves.
As of now, Cleveland is a projected $40 million over next season's $101 million salary cap, assuming James exercises his option. The Cavs will pay about $50 million in luxury-tax penalties on last season's payroll and will have paid about $140 million in penalties for the past four seasons.
Even if James leaves as a free agent, the Cavs would still be over the cap, thanks in part to the contracts of Love ($24.1 million), George Hill ($19 million), Tristan Thompson ($17.5 million), and JR Smith ($14.7 million) — to name a few. That means more tax penalties for owner Dan Gilbert, and no James.
Multiple sources, however, have indicated the Cavs would look to improve (read, continue to spend) while James makes his decision.
Cleveland has as chief among its assets:
— a $5.8 million trade exception
— Kyle Korver's contract ($7.6 million next season; a small portion of the third year guaranteed)
— a roughly $5 million salary cap exception
— Kendrick Perkins' contract ($2.5 million, if it becomes guaranteed
— a young player like Cedi Osman
— and of course the No. 8 pick Thursday
Depending on how the next 12 months go, Cleveland could enter the 2019 free-agency season with significant cap space, with the potential for the contracts of Love, Smith, Hill, and Korver to all be off the books.