Three years after returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a shot at redemption, LeBron James' future is once again up in the air.
Last summer, James signed a three-year, $100 million deal with the Cavs with a player option for the third year in 2018.
Now, chatter over James' free agency that summer is picking up, and it revolves around him leaving the Cavs to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
The talk recently surfaced when The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that some people around the NBA think James may leave Cleveland for the Lakers or Clippers. James owns a house 30 minutes from the Staples Center (where both teams play) and has off-court interests that would benefit from being in LA.
LeBron James through the years
LeBron James through the years
File photo of high school basketball star LeBron James getting set for
a foul shot during the annual Jordan Capital Classic high school
all-star game in Washington, April 17, 2003. James will hold a press
conference at his high shool in Akron, Ohio April 25, 2003, where he is
expected to state his intentions concerning the upcoming NBA draft.
James is expected to be the number one pick should he make himself
available for the draft. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn-Files
Lebron James announces his entrance into the NBA draft, during a press
conference at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, April
25, 2003. The six-foot-eight James, 18, is expected by many to be the
number one selection in the draft on June 26. REUTERS/Jason Cohn
LeBron James (R) shakes hands with National Basketball Association
Commissioner David Stern after being selected by the Cleveland
Cavaliers as the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft at Madison Square
Garden in New York, June 26, 2003. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Cleveland Cavaliers first draft pick LeBron James speaks with reporters
following a picture session at Gund Arena, in Cleveland, October 2,
2003. REUTERS/Ron Kuntz
Cleveland Cavalier rookie forward LeBron James (23) shoots over New Orleans Hornets defenders Baron Davis (1) and David Wesley (4), in the fourth period of NBA action in Cleveland, Ohio, December 23, 2003. James 22 points was the high scorer for the Cavaliers who defeated the Hornets 97-86. REUTERS/Marc Serota MS
Paul Pierce (R) of the Boston Celtics and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers chat while the scoreboard is fixed during the fourth quarter of their game at Gund Arena, February 9, 2004. The Cavaliers won, 97-89. REUTERS/Ron Kuntz RK
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (C) gets a layup as Seattle Supersonics forward Rashad Lewis (L) and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki look on, during the first half of the 54th NBA All-Star Game in Denver, February 20, 2005. REUTERS/John Gress JM
Eastern Conference forward LeBron James holds the Most Valuable Player trophy at the 55th NBA All-Star Game in Houston, Texas February 19, 2006. The East defeated the Western Conference 122-120. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James questions a call during their NBA playoff game against the Washington Wizards in Washington May 5, 2006 Cleveland defeated Washington, 114-113, to advance in the NBA playoffs. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Forward LeBron James, of the Cleveland Cavaliers, works on his jump shot at morning practice during the first day of training camp for the USA men's basketball team in Las Vegas July 19, 2006. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots over New York Knicks forward Quentin Richardson (L) and guard Stephon Marbury (R) in the fourth quarter of their NBA basketball game in New York's Madison Square Garden, November 13, 2006. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James is seen on the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, California, February 15, 2007. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James goes through his pregame powder ritual prior to the start of Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first round NBA playoff basketball game in Cleveland, Ohio April 25, 2007. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James answers media questions before practice for their NBA Finals basketball series against the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio, Texas, June 8, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James (L) celebrates after dunking against the New Orleans Hornets David West during the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Louisiana February 17, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James (L) is guarded by Chicago Bulls Thabo Sefolosha (R) during the first quarter of their NBA basketball game in Cleveland, April 3, 2008. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James drives to the basket during the third quarter of their NBA basketball game in Cleveland January 9, 2009. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James sits with his girlfriend Savana Brinson and son Bryce Maximus during the Rookie Challenge at the NBA All-Star basketball weekend in Phoenix, Arizona, February 13, 2009. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James speaks after being named the NBA Most Valuable Player during a ceremony at his alma mater St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio May 4, 2009. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES SPORT BASKETBALL)
Miami Heat's LeBron James celebrates after Mario Chalmers scored a three pointer against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, December 25, 2010. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Miami Heat's LeBron James (R) stands with Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade during Game 5 of the NBA Finals basketball series in Dallas, June 9, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Miami Heat's LeBron James watches a shot against the Dallas Mavericks through the net during the second half in Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball series in Miami, June 2, 2011. REUTERS/David J. Phillip/Pool (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Miami Heat's LeBron James dunks against the Washington Wizards in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Miami, Florida December 15, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Miami Heat's LeBron James speaks at a press conference after his team defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of their NBA Finals basketball playoff in Miami, Florida June 20, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Dec 19, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) makes a pass against the Brooklyn Nets during the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James wears an " I Can't Breathe" t-shirt during warm ups prior to the game against the Brooklyn Nets in Brooklyn, New York, December 8, 2014. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo
June 14, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James speaks to media following the 104-91 loss against the Golden State Warriors in game five of the NBA Finals. at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 19, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after beating the Golden State Warriors in game seven of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 21: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers pauses on the court during the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at Quicken Loans Arena on January 21, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Spurs defeated the Cavaliers 118-115. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
"Not only is there no guarantee he's coming back, I'm not sure there is an expectation he's re-signing there. I think within Cleveland and around the league they feel that he is very much in play to leave again and likely head out West to one of the two LA teams. The Lakers could very well be a target
"I think the focus, a lot of LeBron's business interests, his Hollywood aspirations, his media ventures are based out there. And I wrote this last year and said it and believed it — the minute he won that championship in Cleveland, he was liberated to leave again. Now, if he had not won a title in Cleveland and left again, I think there would be tremendous backlash again. But the fact that he came back and did what he set out to do, which was bring a title to Cleveland [could allow him to leave again]."
Wojnarowski also said a reunion with Dwyane Wade in Miami, depending on the shape of the team, could be in play.
Of course, part of the impetus of this is the Warriors' foreseeable dominance. The Warriors are in position this summer to lock up their core of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston until at least 2019. The Cavs, meanwhile, have no cap space and little in the way of assets to improve their team.
After losing to the Warriors in five games in the Finals, things look a little bleaker than usual in Cleveland. When asked after Game 5 of how the Cavs can clear the hurdle that is the Warriors juggernaut, James only vaguely said he has to figure things out.
"I need to sit down and figure this thing out. And so I don't know as far as me personally right now. But as far as that team, they're going to be here for a while. They're going to be around for a while ... from my eyes, they're built to last a few years. So we'll see."
"I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together At least one, maybe one or two seasons—me, Melo, D-Wade, CP — we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that ... It would be pretty cool. I've definitely had thoughts about it."
It would take some salary-cap gymnastics for the Cavs to figure out a way to get all four players on the same team, and some believe Cleveland would not be the most appealing place for the four stars. LA, of course, then becomes a more viable option, particularly if Paul re-signs with the Clippers this summer.
The Cavs have potentially been bracing for a James exit as well. Since returning to Cleveland, James has only signed one-year deals, both for financial and motivational reasons. If the Cavs didn't build the team to James' liking, or he felt the front office was getting complacent, he would have the ability to leave again.
As O'Connor notes, Cavs GM David Griffin acknowledged the possibility of James leaving this year while discussing how the Cavs have traded future draft picks for win-now players.
"It's our job to win right now and everyone feels that. Ownership feels that, ownership invests in it. When you have that amount of clarity, it makes doing things like trading protected firsts make sense. It may not look good on the books moving forward and people may look at it and say, 'Oh my god, they've mortgaged their future.' Well, if LeBron and Kyrie [Irving] and Kevin [Love] are gone, and we become a lottery pick, we'll have those picks because they're protected."
For now, James is a Cavalier, and their offseason focus will be on finding the missing pieces needed to get them back on the Warriors' level. But James' future is once again a talking point, and it could linger over the Cavs for the next year.