LeBron hints he'll explore free agency

AKRON, Ohio -- LeBron James is going to make the Cleveland Cavaliers wait -- and sweat.

James indicated Friday that he is unlikely to accept a contract extension from the Cavs until after the 2009-10 season and presumably will become a free agent.

At an event in his hometown to unveil Nike Air Max LeBron VII, the latest sneaker in his signature line, James made his strongest comments yet about his future. The NBA's reigning MVP said he signed a three-year contract in 2006 to give him more options once it expires.

"I signed a contract in 2006 with an option, and it would make no sense for me to sign that contract if I didn't keep my options open," he said. "I'll let you fill in the blanks."

The Cavaliers offered James a contract extension on July 18, the three-year anniversary of the signing of his current contract. The team could offer the extension -- at the highest salary allowed -- of up to three years. James can sign the extension offer anytime before June 30, 2010.

James, who will make $15.7 million next season, also has an option in his current contract that can extend his deal through the 2010-11 season.

However, it appears for now that James does not intend to sign the extension or pick up his one-year option for $17.1 million anytime soon.

The 24-year-old superstar said his agent, Leon Rose, and Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry have had "a great conversation." But James remained noncommittal about his plans beyond the upcoming season, one he hopes ends with the Cavs, who acquired All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal shortly after their season ended, winning their first NBA title.

James was similarly positioned in 2006, when he decided to sign a three-year extension with the Cavs.

Despite James' insistence that he's happy in Cleveland, his choice to delay his decision is certain to spark more speculation that he'll sign with another club next summer. James has maintained that he's pleased with the Cavs' direction, owner Dan Gilbert and Ferry's attempts to add more talent to Cleveland's roster.

James said he isn't worried about his contract situation becoming a distraction.

Following an elaborate multimedia presentation by Nike, James, who will embark on a tour promoting his new shoe and "More Than A Game," a documentary chronicling his days at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, answered questions about O'Neal and Magic forward Rashard Lewis' 10-game suspension for testing positive for an elevated testosterone level.

James also reiterated his Thursday comments in which he said he regretted not doing a mandatory postgame media session after the Cavaliers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Orlando Magic. But he also said that he didn't think he owed anyone an apology for failing to shake hands with the Magic players immediately after the series ended.

James offered sympathy to Lewis, who admitted taking an over-the-counter supplement late last season that included a substance he did not realize was banned by the league.

"It's unfortunate," James said. "I know Rashard really well and I know he's not that type of guy who would do anything to get the upper edge on another player, that's first and foremost. You just have to use great judgment. We have guys with us every day who can find out for you if it [substance] is banned or not banned by the NBA. A mistake by him."

James said he is looking forward to being teammates with O'Neal, one of the few athletes on the planet as recognizable as James himself.

"To get the opportunity to play with one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game, that's the fun part for me," James said. "I'm humbled by that."