Getty Images

LeBron James is notoriously quiet about his free agency decisions before July arrives. In 2010 and 2014, he took meetings starting on July 1 and made his choices deeper into the month without offering any public hints. In 2018, he said nothing publicly, only releasing a statement on July 1 that he had chosen to join the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, for the first time since then, he can become an unrestricted free agent and potentially join a new team thanks to a $51.4 million player option with the Lakers.

James has, yet again, remained quiet on his plans for the offseason, but notably, his agent, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, appeared on the TNT alt-cast for Game 2 of the Western Conference finals and referred to James as "a free agent."

Notably, at the end of the video, Paul stops short of confirming that James will indeed opt out of the final year of his Lakers contract. When Chris Haynes presses him on that, Paul replies, "Chris, you know I don't do my business over the air, man." He went on to elaborate by saying that James' situation is still up in the air. "I don't know what he's gonna do. We're gonna do what we do every year. We're gonna evaluate the situation and we're gonna make the best decision."

So what does all of this mean? Obviously, these two notions are somewhat opposed. If James is, indeed, a free agent, it means that he will decline that option. Perhaps it was a slip by Paul, or, more likely, it was an allusion to the reality that the mere possibility of James becoming a free agent means he is currently treating himself like one. 

Essentially, that means he is considering his options at the moment. Returning to the Lakers is obviously one of them. Finding a new team would be as well, though Paul obviously would not state that directly. Notably, however, he said in a Friday interview with Haynes that "the Lakers' focus should probably be more so on Anthony Davis than LeBron at this point."

Davis is under contract with the Lakers for four more seasons after signing an extension last offseason. James is eligible to sign for only three years in total, either by opting in and extending for two more years for a total of roughly $164 million, or opting out and signing a new three-year deal for roughly $162 million (which would also allow him to add a no-trade clause). 

James has until June 29 to make up his mind on the player option, which is three days after the 2024 NBA Draft, when his son Bronny is expected to be selected. James has said in the past that he plans to play with Bronny at the end of his career, though he has softened on that stance of late.

Even if James isn't technically a free agent, he functionally is one. He has the capacity to get out of his contract, and even if he can't directly speak to teams yet, he knows that all 30 teams would be interested in adding him. If he is interested in other opportunities, he can explore them independently before making up his mind on that option. Ultimately, the expectation is that James will remain with the Lakers, but so long as that option exists, it's no guarantee.