by Jack Maloney | CBS Sports

CLEVELAND (CBS SPORTS) — LeBron James will hit the NBA free agency market after all. The four-time NBA MVP opted out of the final year of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to become an unrestricted free agent, as first reported by’s Joe Vardon.

This is what everyone assumed would happen, as it gives James the freedom to go wherever he wants this summer. It shouldn’t, however, be viewed as proof that he will definitely leave the Cavaliers.

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LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on in the second half against the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the 2018 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio.

LeBron James (credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

James likely cannot make quite as much money — he opted out of $35.6 million for next season, but the estimated maximum contract for this offseason starts at $35.4 million. That small financial blow could be more than offset by a long-term contract, with the Cavaliers or another team.

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So who might those other teams be? While James opting out of his contract doesn’t eliminate the Cavaliers, it does pretty much eliminate the Houston Rockets. They would have been hoping for James to opt in to the final year of his deal and then force a sign-and-trade, just like Chris Paul did last summer. Now, they won’t have the cap space to just sign James.

Along with the Cavaliers, James’ other options appear to be the Los Angeles Lakers or the Philadelphia 76ers. Those are the only two teams he was linked to who have the requisite cap space to ink him to a max contract. At this point, however, all the buzz is pointing to L.A., and it seems the decision may come down to whether James wants to remain with the Cavs or join the Lakers.

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