LeBron James opts out of Cavaliers contract to become free agent. Here’s how that impacts the Heat …

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during Game Seven of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on May 27, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

MIAMI — LeBron James will become an unrestricted free agent.

James has opted out of a $35.6 million player option in his current contract with the Cavaliers for next season, according to multiple reports. The decision means the 14-time All-Star will be an unrestricted free agent starting Sunday.

For those still hoping for a James-Heat reunion, this news makes it very unlikely he will end up in Miami.

With Miami capped out and just a few million dollars away from the projected $123 million luxury tax threshold, the cleanest and easiest way for the Heat would have been to land James through a normal trade. In order to facilitate this type of deal, he would have had to opt in to the final season of his current contract before Friday’s deadline and then convince Cleveland to trade him to Miami.

But now that James has opted out to become a free agent, it makes it difficult for teams without cap space to acquire him this summer. And again, the Heat are already over the cap.

Although very challenging, it’s not impossible for Miami to sign James even after his decision to opt out. It can still be done through free agency or a sign-and-trade.

Here’s why those options are so difficult for the Heat, though.

Acquiring James as a direct free agent signing will be extremely tough for the Heat. Miami is already $18 million over the projected $101 million salary cap for the 2018-19 season — and that’s before dealing with the Wayne Ellington, Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade situations — and James is expected to sign a max contract with a starting salary of $35.4 million.

That means in order to create enough space under the cap to acquire James as a direct free agent signing, the Heat would need to clear at least $53 million off the books. That’s going to be really, really hard.

As for the sign-and-trade scenario, there’s one big challenge the Heat would face. Teams receiving the player in the sign-and-trade deal — in this case the Heat — can’t surpass the apron at the end of the trade. That means the Heat would be hard-capped at the apron, which is projected to be $129 million.

The Heat already have 10 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due about $119 million, and will be close to $125 million if they round out their roster with just minimum deals. This puts the Heat really close to the apron. Because of this, Miami would have to send out at least $31 million to take James’ $35 million salary back in a sign-and-trade.

James’ decision to opt out narrows the numbers of options he has to choose from, realistically to teams that have cap space to sign a max player this summer. Realistically down to the Cavaliers, Lakers and Sixers.

2018 Heat Offseason Preview

[Monday’s question: LeBron James could be on the move again, do the Heat have a chance of bringing him back?]

[Tuesday’s question: Will Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem return for a 16th NBA season or retire?]

[Wednesday’s question: Will 3-point specialist Wayne Ellington return to Heat?]

[Thursday’s question: With no cap space, can Heat turn to trades to improve roster?]

[Friday’s question: Does Hassan Whiteside’s contract make him untradeable?]

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