INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- LeBron James wanted to make a few things crystal clear on Friday: He hasn't started to ponder his potential free agency in July, any insinuation that he is considering a meeting with the Golden State Warriors is "nonsense" and the only thing on his mind right now is rallying the slumping Cleveland Cavaliers to a fourth-straight NBA Finals appearance.
"The first thing I did I started laughing, actually," James said when he saw a notification on his phone about the ESPN story published late Wednesday night that detailed his supposed interest in the Warriors. "And then I thought about it I think it's doing [a disservice], it's nonsense, and it's a non-story."
James continued, speaking for nearly three minutes without interruption to explain where his head is at with the trade deadline six days away and the start of free agency six months away.
"I think it's a discredit to what I'm trying to do here," James said. "It's a discredit to my teammates and the coaching staff here. My only focus right now is trying to figure out how we can become a championship-caliber team in these next few months. It's been so many stories about me in the last few months, in the last few days, about where I'm going and where I'm at and what place I'm in. I'm here, I'm right here, I'm right now and this is my present and this is where I'm at. If you don't hear something coming from my voice, then it's not true.
"I don't give a damn how close they are [as a source], I don't care if it's my kids, or my wife or whatever. If it's not from me, it's not true, so. Not even like upset right now about it. I think it's just a discredit to my teammates because I'm the leader of these guys and for them to have to hear that stuff every single day about my free agency, I apologize to them. I will handle my summer situation when my summer gets here, and I will not handle it now."
"If you don't hear something coming from my voice, then it's not true. I don't give a damn how close they are (as a source)... If it's not from me, it's not true."LeBron James
Should James opt out of the final year on his contract with the Cavs, $35.7 million for 2018-19, he will become a free agent for the fifth time in his 15-year career -- in 2010 he left Cleveland for Miami, in 2014 he left Miami for Cleveland, in 2015 and 2016, he re-upped with the Cavs.
"I've always handled (free agency) at the right, appropriate time and that's at the end of the season, when it's time appropriate," James said. "And I've never let anything on the outside get in the way of what I'm trying to accomplish. So, I know the sound bite will be broken up and cut and however you guys want to cut it up, but the Golden State conversation is a non-story, all the other conversations is a non-story. My focus right now is on this team and trying to figure out how we can get back to a fourth NBA Finals and compete for a championship.
"Everything else, if it's not about this team, I can answer it good, bad or ugly, but please, for the rest of the season please don't ask me about nothing else, no other team. Unless we're competing against them the next night or to ask me about a highlight that happened the night before. Don't ask me about being on another team, to my teammates here, my 14 teammates, we come and work hard for the coaching staff, and this fan base, so that's what I got to say about that."
Behind the scenes, James has acknowledged the respect he has for the Warriors organization, a source familiar with James' thinking told ESPN, but he has no interest in ever joining Golden State, knowing full well how his legacy would be damaged if he was labeled a ring chaser on a championship-ready team.
James was asked if he checked to see if the information came from someone in his camp. "I don't need to, and it didn't," he said. "And I don't think it did and even if ... it could be ... I know how it works. I know exactly how it works. There's 30 teams right now that at the end of the day probably want to sit down with me at the end of the season, right? Correct. It's so easy to make a story out of that. I mean I could write a story today and say, 'OK, well Sacramento is trying to, would love to pitch LeBron.' But the fact when it comes that LeBron is willing to sit down, I saw that part? LeBron never said that, and I don't like even saying that it feels like ... I ain't never said that. I never said I would sit down with Golden State or sit down with anybody.
"The only thing that bothers me is that people get to go on talk shows and discredit what I'm doing, saying, 'Well, if he does this then this is the worst thing,' 'If he's engaging in that then it tarnishes his legacy.' Like, that's what bothers me because I have no control over that. I'm not even involved in that so what I can control is how I prepare myself everyday with this group of guys, what I cannot control is these stories that come out. But what I will not allow is for people to kind of use my name -- as we already know they do -- for something that is a non-story. The Golden state thing is a non-story."
When Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was asked about the story, he immediately broke out in laughter.
"I have no reaction, really. I mean, I don't know. I don't know," Lue said in between chuckles. "Somebody told me about it -- I'm not going to say any names -- but, yeah, I heard about it. No comment. I don't know what I can say [to] not get in trouble so no comment."
James said he didn't think the story will affect the Cavs, who have enough to worry about with All-Star forward Kevin Love expected to miss up to two months with a broken left hand, Isaiah Thomas slow to return to top form after a torn labrum in his hip sidelined him for seven months and one of the worst team defensive ratings in the league.
"I don't even think it's disruptive to my guys because they hear it all the time," James said. "I don't think it's disruptive. I just want to end this thing right now. It's not disruptive. I mean, we came in and had a hell of a practice today. I don't think it's disruptive. But the conversation is going to continue to happen throughout the whole season. I get that. I get that. It's going to be every single day. I get that, 'Where's LeBron?' The LeBron-Meter. 'Where's he going to end up? What is he going to do?' Like, I just want you guys to know that my focus right now is on the Cavs and how we can get back to the Finals for a fourth straight year. That's my focus. And everything else is going to get talked about, but it's not a distraction. But like, I think it's just unfair to my teammates that come here every day. I mean, I can handle it myself. But it's unfair to those guys."
James said he waited to address the story on Friday with reporters rather than Thursday through social media in order to show his sincerity.
"I wanted to see you all face to face so I let you all know how sincere I am instead of getting on Twitter or getting on Instagram, then you know how real this is right now," James said. "Like, this is my focus. Nothing else is stopping me from trying to get this team back to the Finals."
And he made sure to reiterate one more time, for good measure, that the only thing that matters to him in the moment: Winning with the Cavs.
"This is coming straight, direct from me. This is coming direct from me," James said. "The story needs to be: LeBron is focused on getting his team back to the Finals. That's what the story should be. Because I'm telling you guys right now. Not, oh, I'm angry about, what, the Golden State story, or I'm angry about, what, the Lakers and Philly and Houston and San Antonio and Sacramento and Orlando and Miami and Toronto. I can name all 30 teams. Like, that's not the story. The story from me, personally, my focus right now and I'm driven right now to figure out how we can put the right basketball [together] every single night to compete for a championship and get to the Finals for a fourth straight year. That's what my focus is. That's what the story is."