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James stalls on new deal

LeBron James is unlikely to accept a contract extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers until after the 2009-10 season.

AKRON, OHIO // LeBron James is unlikely to accept a contract extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers until after the 2009-10 season, he indicated in a move that is certain to spark more speculation that the NBA's reigning MVP will become a free agent and sign with another club next summer. At an event in his home town to unveil Nike Air Max LeBron VII, the latest sports shoe in his signature line, James made his strongest comments yet about his future, saying he signed a three-year contract in 2006 to give him more options once it expired. "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 present deal. James can sign the extension offer any time before June 30, 2010. The forward, who will make US$15.7million (Dh57.6m) next season, also has an option in his contract that can extend his deal through the 2010-11 season. However, it appears for now that he does not intend to sign the extension or pick up his one-year option for $17.1 million any time soon.

James, who was similarly positioned in 2006 when he decided to sign a three-year extension with the Cavaliers, said he was not worried about his contract situation becoming a distraction. But his decision to hold off on accepting a contract extension will mean a flurry of speculation about one of the NBA's genuine superstars. James, who signed a $90m contract with Nike before his professional debut, was selected by the Cavaliers as the No 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft in 2003, and was the league's rookie of the year in the 2003-04 season.

James, 24, said his agent, Leon Rose, and the Cavaliers' general manager, Danny Ferry, have had "a great conversation". But he remained noncommittal about his plans beyond the upcoming campaign, one he hopes ends with the Cavaliers, who acquired All-Star centre Shaquille O'Neal shortly after their season ended, winning their first NBA title. The MVP said he is looking forward to playing with O'Neal "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," he said. "I'm humbled by that."

He also reiterated comments in which he said he regretted not doing a mandatory post-game media session after the Cavaliers were eliminated from this year's play-offs by the Orlando Magic. But he also said that he did not think he owed anyone an apology for declining to shake hands with the Magic players immediately after the series ended. * AP