Shortly after the NBA's free agency season began Saturday, the Cavaliers contacted James to offer him a five-year maximum contract extension worth about $80 million, a deal that could keep him in Cleveland through the 2012-13 season.
For months, James has said he has no plans to leave. However, until he says he has accepted the Cavaliers' offer, nothing is certain. James can't officially sign anything until July 12, and there's a chance he might make the club sweat through the holiday weekend before telling them his plans.
On Friday, he had little to say about his contract situation, a topic that causes some Cleveland fans to tremble with fear.
"I'm not talking about it today," a smiling James said at a news conference held by the Cavaliers to introduce new draft picks Shannon Brown and Daniel Gibson. "You'll have to ask them [the Cavaliers]."
But the team, fearful of doing anything to upset James or break the league's gag order during the free agency moratorium from July 1-12, is reluctant to discuss much about the star's future.
"This is one you don't want to stub your toe on rules," general manager Danny Ferry said. "We're going to make a call and allow things to unfold from there. Rushing is not a necessity."
But Cleveland fans aren't as patient. They've been burned before, crushed by promises made by the likes of Art Modell, Jim Thome and Carlos Boozer, who all said they would stay and left anyway.
The hope is that James, who was born in Akron, stays close to home.
"These are stressful times," Marissa Carcioppolo of Parma said after buying a silver Cavaliers basketball for her 5-year-old niece's birthday at the club's team shop at Quicken Loans Arena. "Everyone is a little bit stressed out that he's going to leave us, but LeBron has said he wants to stay in Cleveland. He's home-grown, and I feel like he wants to be here. His heart is here."
James planned to stay in town for the next few days, but he didn't know if the Cavaliers would be meeting with his agent, Leon Rose, soon. James even joked about his high-profile agent, who represents Andrea Bargnani, taken No. 1 overall by Toronto, and Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, rumored to be on the trading block.
"I hope he [Rose] can find some time for me," James said.
The Cavaliers have exclusive negotiating rights with James this summer. As the team that drafted him, they can offer him a "max" contract extension allowed under the league's collective bargaining agreement that would kick in after the 2007-08 season. Under that deal, James, who will make $5.8 million next season, would make 25 percent of the 2007-08 salary cap, which will be determined later.
Players have historically taken the extension when it's offered, primarily because of the security.
Last season, Amare Stoudemire signed his five-year, $73 million extension with Phoenix, then suffered a season-ending knee injury one week later. If he had not signed, Stoudemire would have risked never seeing that money from the Suns again.
If James chooses not to sign this summer, he can become a restricted free agent after the 2006-07 season. But the Cavaliers would still be able to match any offer sheet made to James, plus they could give him a six-year deal while other teams could only give him five.
James would not be eligible for unrestricted free agency until after the 2007-08 season.
With a busy summer ahead and his fourth NBA season looming at the other end of it, James may want to get the extension talks over with quickly. He's playing for Team USA in the World Championships and has to report to training camp in Las Vegas on July 19.
He wasn't required to be at Friday's event when the Cavaliers welcomed Brown and Gibson. But James was there, perhaps providing another sign of his commitment to Cleveland.
"He's a big part of this and that has to make both those guys feel really pretty good, that the leader here wants to come and show some support for them," Ferry said.
And how does it make the GM feel?
"Always good to see him," he said.