By Frank Pingue

James is one of a number of high-profile players who could opt for free agency this summer, and anything short of a trip to the finals should weigh heavily on whether the six-times All-Star is wearing a new uniform next season.

"For LeBron James, taking an early exit from the playoffs with Cleveland might really seal his fate there," said Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"They can offer the most money but if they are not going to be able to be the team that can create a champion for him then he probably will think that the bigger stage and marketing opportunities will be more lucrative elsewhere."

"King James" is 25 years old, in his seventh season and could finally complete his resume as the Cavaliers enter the playoffs as the top seed for the second straight year.

But some support a view that winning a championship with the Cavaliers could actually convince James, born just outside Cleveland in Akron, Ohio, to seek new surroundings.

"Even though it's not likely he is going to leave, the likelier scenario is if he wins a championship," Marc Ganis, president of sports consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd, told Reuters.

"Because then he can say he left a winner and left his community a championship team."

But given the NBA's salary structure, the Cavaliers are allowed to pay James more money than any other team. That could mean James may have to pick between the bright lights of New York City or sticking with an established team.

"In this era of globalization of sponsorships I think it's pretty much a fallacy to assume that he will go to a market that would maximize his sponsor appeal," Rick Horrow, a sports lecturer at Harvard Law School, told Reuters.

(Editing by Alison Wildey)