NBA

LeBron James probably won't join the Golden State Warriors but it's not impossible

Jay Asser 1/02/2018
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LeBron James has the option of hitting free agency this summer.

Et tu, LeBron?

We know LeBron James’ primary focus is on winning championships. We’re also learning that goal is becoming less and less achievable in Cleveland, seemingly by the day.

But the notion that LeBron would leave in free agency and go to the team best situated to win titles for the foreseeable future was, until today, pure fantasy.

Well, the chances of that dream – or nightmare, depending on your perspective – appear slightly better after a bombshell report by ESPN’s Chris Haynes that James could meet with the Golden State Warriors and listen to their pitch on getting him to join.

The report isn’t saying James will join the Warriors, or even that he wants to. It’s just revealing that James would consider it.

Let’s break down why such a colossus move won’t become a reality, but also explore why it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility.

Why it wouldn’t happen

Before jumping into LeBron’s massive shoes and sifting through his motivations, let’s first look at the cold, hard facts – or in this case, the cold, hard salary cap.

The very first words of ESPN’s report make it clear that any meeting between James and the defending champions would be dependent on “if the Golden State Warriors can create a max salary slot this offseason”. So you can throw any thought of LeBron taking a pay cut out the window.

Golden State would need to create cap space to slot in LeBron’s max contract, which will be no easy feat considering their payroll is expected to once again be north of $128 million next season. Unless Kevin Durant declines his player option for 2018-19 and is generous enough to literally take next to nothing on his next contract, there’s really no way LeBron’s salary could fit without a trade going down.

For the Warriors, there’s no way around trading one of Klay Thompson or Draymond Green, along with Andre Iguodala, to make the money work to add LeBron.

LeBron is the best player in the world, even at the 33, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. In the short term, he’s an upgrade over every player in the league. So it’s not so much a question of whether the Warriors would be better right now in that scenario.

But it could come at the cost of what they’ve already built – a sustainable, egalitarian ecosystem that’s already set up to be a dynasty. Adding LeBron may remove all doubt, but Golden State don’t need him to keep winning titles.

And for LeBron, there’s more to consider than just basketball and titles.

If you thought James was killed for leaving Cleveland the first time and joining Miami, and Kevin Durant was dragged over the coals for bailing on Oklahoma City for the Bay Area, a LeBron-to-Warriors move would inspire fury never seen before from casual NBA fans.

“He’s done something similar before”, you say. Well, the decision to team-up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach was different. That was a case of three friends coming together and building their own ‘superteam’. James joining these Warriors, an already-constructed Voltron, would just be a more exaggerated version of Durant’s decision to take the path of least resistance.

Even if he won several titles with Golden State, his image, legacy and brand may not be better for it. LeBron should already be considered alongside Michael Jordan as the greatest ever and no matter what he does going forward, that should never be taken away from him. But what should happen and what will happen are two different things because the overwhelming narrative isn’t always right.

What if LeBron doesn’t care though?

Why it could happen

Maybe James is just sick of it all. Sick of spending every season dealing with wild inconsistencies before righting the ship and making a run to the Finals, only to get bounced without so much as putting a scratch on the Warriors.

Maybe he’s sick of playing with aging veterans who are past their prime. Maybe he’s sick of Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert messing everything up. Maybe he’s sick of having all the burden and expectations placed on his broad shoulders.

Durant got characterised as someone who wanted to take the easy way out when he joined Golden State, but it felt like playing a fun, cohesive style of basketball was just as important to his decision as winning was. It wouldn’t be ridiculous if LeBron had that same yearning.

And yes, the chance to gobble up titles and close the gap, if not even the score, with Jordan remains a massive selling point.

While people who follow the league might put a mental asterisk on any titles LeBron wins with the Warriors, it’s entirely possible James is chasing the ghost of Jordan for his own personal challenge and not for anyone else’s judgement.

If it sounds like you’re being talked into the idea like a potential customer being talked into buying a car, you’re exactly right. Because at the end of the day, LeBron isn’t joining the Warriors.

Probably.

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Lou Williams, Tyreke Evans and other potential players on the move before the NBA's trade deadline

Jay Asser 30/01/2018
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Lou Williams is averaging a career-high 23.5 points this season.

The first domino ahead of the trade deadline has fallen with Blake Griffin traded to Detroit. Here are five players who could be on the move next, with his former team-mate kicking off the list:

Lou Williams

It would only make sense that after the Clippers unloaded Griffin, they would then move Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan, right? Not necessarily.

Both are expiring contracts – though Jordan could opt-in for $24.1 million in 2018-19 – but LA might be content holding on to them and re-signing them in the summer. Out of the two, Williams could be moved easier, thanks to his lower salary and what he can offer a contender: scoring and shooting in a pinch, either as a starter or off the bench.

Kemba Walker

Charlotte have made it clear that their point guard is available for the right price, although that price may be too steep for teams who would like to pursue him.

Walker isn’t having as good of a season as he did last year, but he’s still a borderline All-Star and a talented scorer. He’s also on a cheap contract that will pay him just $12 million next season. All these reasons are why Charlotte are likely seeking high value in return and few, if any teams, will want to match that price point.

Rodney Hood

Hood might not be any more than what he already is, but at just 25, he’s worth taking a gamble on.

Utah aren’t going anywhere right now and the only players on their roster that should be in their future plans are Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Detroit, even after trading for Griffin, are reportedly eyeing Hood, who would instantly provide outside shooting and some scoring, complimenting the Pistons’ new frontcourt look.

Tyreke Evans

Evans is having the best season of his career at the age of 28 and would provide a major boost to any contender in need of a scoring punch.

Memphis are headed for a lottery pick and could improve their selection by shipping Evans somewhere he could play meaningful minutes, like Boston. However, Evans is playing too well for the Grizzlies not to command a first-round pick and teams will hesitate at spending that for an expiring contract.

Julius Randle

Despite his production, Randle is a bit of a question mark in today’s NBA as a bruising power forward who doesn’t stretch the floor or provide much rim protection.

But he’s only 23 and seems to produce whenever he’s on the floor. The Lakers are chasing cap space in the summer and Randle doesn’t figure to be in their long-term plans as he’ll hit restricted free agency, so it would make sense to move him now if a team values his old-school game.

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Blake Griffin trade is a pivot for Los Angeles Clippers, while Detroit Pistons finally nab a star

Jay Asser 30/01/2018
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Blake Griffin had spent his entire career with the Clippers after being drafted number one overall in 2009.

With a little more than a week to go before the trade deadline, we’ve likely already seen the best player to switch teams this season.

In a move that few saw coming, the Los Angeles Clippers traded Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 first-round pick (protected 1-4 through 2020, unprotected in 2021) and a 2019 second-round pick. Detroit also receive Brice Johnson and Willie Reed from Los Angeles.

The transaction has positive and negative aspects for each side, which makes it a difficult trade to judge through a binary lens – at least in the immediate aftermath.

Let’s parse the move to make sense of it for both franchises.

End of Lob City

In the span of seven months, the Clippers have lost the two best, and most iconic, players in the team’s history, with Chris Paul traded to Houston in the summer and now Griffin shipped to Detroit.

It feels like just yesterday when Paul was tossing alleys to Griffin and the Clippers were the most entreating basketball show in Los Angeles. But things can change in the blink of an eye in the NBA and the Clippers are now primed for a new era.

There’s zero doubt that LA are surrendering the best player in the deal, with Griffin’s star power, talent and production unmatched by any player in Detroit’s package. And unlike past stars who were traded because they were considered flight risks, Griffin is locked into a five-year, $171 million (Dh628m) contract he just signed this past July.

That contract, however, is what ultimately spooked the Clippers as they quickly realised this season their ceiling for the future. The silver lining in Paul’s departure was Griffin taking on more playmaking responsibility and while he’s averaging a career-high in assists (5.4), his game – outside of his 3-point shooting – hasn’t expanded to the extent that the Clippers likely envisioned.

Griffin hasn’t been good enough to be an All-Star in the Western Conference this season and it’s hard to have $171m owed to a great, but not top player. Especially when it looks like your team is going to be no better than a fringe playoff contender for the foreseeable future.

Which is why the Clippers decided to pivot. Not only do they get out of Griffin’s contract, they also picked up a potential lottery pick, a young, smooth-stroking small-ball four in Harris and an expiring contract in Bradley, whose $8.8m (Dh32.3m) will come off the books in the summer.

Bradley can be rerouted for another pick, giving the Clippers another tradeable asset to go with Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan.

Ultimately, the Clippers made the trade with future cap space to chase bigger fish in mind and by shedding Griffin, that dream becomes a more feasible reality.

Pistons get their star

Before unpacking all the other factors involved, let’s acknowledge that Detroit got a star, in his prime, and locked into a long-term contract. Those types of players are hard to find and often harder to keep, especially if you’re a middling team that is far from being a free agent destination, like the Pistons are.

It came at a cost, of course, but the price becomes more palatable when you consider that Bradley was all but gone in free agency this summer and Harris will command big money when his current contract ends in 2019. Essentially, Detroit paid a fringe lottery pick to upgrade from a good player in Harris, to a great player in Griffin, with the assurance that they can benefit from the upsize for the coming years.

Griffin and Andre Drummond should work well together, not too dissimilar to the Griffin-Jordan pairing in LA. What Griffin loses in rim protection in going from Jordan to Drummond, he gains in playmaking as two of the best passing big men in the league join forces.

The problem, however, is there’s little else surrounding those two right now. Reggie Jackson, at his best, is an average point guard, while the rest of the roster leaves a lot to be desired in terms of depth and talent.

This move may end up locking the Pistons into the dreaded no man’s land as something more than a good team and something less than a contender, but even before this trade, there were few avenues at a bright future for Detroit.

Acquiring Griffin at least shakes up their landscape and gives them someone to attempt to build around.

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