LeBron signs three-year extension with Cavs

By By The Associated Press

By The Associated Press

CLEVELAND-As he has throughout his short career, LeBron James combined basketball with business acumen Wednesday by accepting less than the maximum contract offered by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It wasn’t a hometown discount. By taking $20 million less, James could cash in later.

The 21-year-old agreed to a three-year contract extension worth about $60 million, which will keep the All-Star forward with the Cavaliers through the 2009-10 season. It includes a player option for a fourth year.

James’ extension is for two fewer years than the deal the Cavs offered, a five-year package worth about $80 million.

By the summer of 2010, James will be a seven-year veteran with the option of seeking a new contract as an unrestricted free agent, making him eligible to negotiate a maximum contract worth 30 percent of the salary cap. Players with less than seven years experience can earn only 25 percent of the cap.

“LeBron looked at this very deeply and understood the complexity of what the situation was,” his agent, Leon Rose, said in an interview on the Cavaliers’ Web site. “In the end, this works out very well for him and puts him in a position to accomplish all of his goals, both on the court and off.”

A shorter deal made more sense because of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, James said.

“We did extensive research and with the way the CBA is set up, it makes the most business sense to sign this extension and then look at another new contract in four years,” James said.

For Cleveland sports fans worried that James eventually will leave town like other big name athletes such as Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, they have one consolation-the Cavaliers have four years left to win a championship with the 6-foot-8 superstar. Cleveland hasn’t celebrated a title since the 1964 Browns won the NFL crown.

“If I didn’t believe in this team and this organization and the direction that we’re headed, I wouldn’t have signed the extension,” James said.

The contract, which James has yet to sign, will take effect after the 2006-07 season. He will earn $5.8 million next season, the last year of his rookie contract.

Although James announced Saturday that he had agreed to an extension with the Cavs, terms couldn’t be finalized until Wednesday, when the NBA’s moratorium on free agency ended. With James traveling on the West Coast, no formal news conference was planned.

General manager Danny Ferry said the Cavaliers understand why the five-year maximum contract wasn’t best for James.

“This allows LeBron to maximize his value while wearing a Cavaliers uniform. LeBron is an intelligent young man,” Ferry said. “He did his due diligence and is excited about continuing to play with the Cavaliers and from our perspective his presence is beyond measure.”

Ferry wasn’t concerned that James could leave after four seasons.

“Based on the direction we’re headed, we’re confident we’ll still be in a great position when that time comes,” Ferry said.

James, who’s from nearby Akron, has resurrected a franchise that has never reached the NBA Finals. With James hitting winning shots in the playoffs, the Cavaliers came within one victory of beating Detroit and reaching the Eastern Conference finals.

The Cavs’ turnaround began when they won the 2003 draft lottery and selected James with the No. 1 overall pick out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Since then, James has scored more points, handed out more assists and grabbed more rebounds at a younger age than any player in NBA history.

Last season, James became just the fourth player to average at least 31.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists, joining Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Michael Jordan. He was voted the youngest All-Star game MVP in history, and finished runner-up to Phoenix’s Steve Nash for league MVP.

“Now we need to continue to bring in the players to complement LeBron in our quest for an NBA title,” said Ferry, who plans to try to re-sign restricted free agent power forward Drew Gooden.

With James’ extension looming, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert did everything he could to keep his top player and fan attraction.

Last summer, Cleveland spent millions on free agents Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones and re-signed center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Gilbert also renovated Quicken Loans Arena, upgrading the Cavs’ locker room and remodeling a family area partly to accommodate the overflow of James’ supporters at every home game.

The club also is building a $20 million training facility in suburban Independence, a short drive from James’ home.

The Associated Press