The Ariza source said James told Ariza he plans to remain with the Cavaliers past next summer, when he can become a free agent. James could not be reached for comment Monday night, but on Tuesday, sources who spoke to James said the story told by the person close to Ariza is wrong.
James' conversation with Ariza was, according to the Ariza source, part of the Cavaliers' attempt to make Ariza the next Hedo Turkoglu, who backed out of his promise last week to join Portland and instead accepted a deal with Toronto.
Over the weekend, Cavs general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Brown flew to Los Angeles and met with Ariza on Sunday, according to several sources with knowledge of the situation.
Ariza, who accepted a five-year, $33.5 million offer from the Rockets last Thursday, also received telephone calls from James and Shaquille O'Neal. When Ariza asked James about his future with the Cavs, according to the person close to Ariza, James told the former Lakers forward that he is staying in Cleveland long term.
"Trevor asked LeBron if he would be in Cleveland after next season," the source said. "And LeBron said, 'I'll be there. Of course, I'll be there.'"
Ariza still had his doubts.
"He thought it was just a recruiting tool," the source said. "Until he signs the contract, it doesn't mean much."
The Cavaliers did not ask James or O'Neal to call Ariza, but as he did with Ron Artest, James took it upon himself to reach out. James' future in Cleveland has been an issue with potential signees.
Artest, whom the Cavaliers had interest in before he agreed to terms with the Lakers, was concerned about signing a multiyear deal with Cleveland because of James' ability to leave in 2010. And even O'Neal, who was traded to the Cavs less than two weeks ago, tried to find out about James' long-term plans with the club during trade talks.
Even so, according to sources, a flattered Ariza strongly considered reneging on his agreement with the Rockets and heading for Cleveland, which made him the same offer as Houston last week. In the end, however, he decided to keep his word to the Rockets.
"He's a very loyal person," the source said. "[Rockets coach] Rick Adelman had lunch with him for three straight days last week and that meant a lot to him."
Ariza presumably will sign with the Rockets on Wednesday, the first day free agents are allowed to sign contracts. But until then, other teams can recruit him, and he can change his mind.
Though Ferry and Brown left Los Angeles on Sunday night thinking their mission had failed, the Cavaliers spoke with Ariza's representatives one last time Monday afternoon, only to be told that he still planned to be a Rocket.
Sources say several factors led to Ariza's decision. First, his toddler son lives in Los Angeles (with the toddler's mother), and Ariza likes it that Houston is a much shorter flight to L.A. than Cleveland. Second, Adelman promised that the Rockets would feature him offensively while the Cavaliers refused to guarantee him a starting job. Instead, the Cavs told him he'd be given a legitimate chance to compete for the spot against last season's starter, Delonte West.
"He wanted to be sure he'd start," the source said. "That was a big hang-up."
While an about-face is still possible, the Cavaliers, who met with Channing Frye in Cleveland on Monday, aren't holding their breath.
"As far as we're concerned, he's going to Houston," a team executive said. "We've moved on."
The Cavaliers, of course, are hoping James doesn't do the same thing a year from now.
Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.