LeBron James is going to have his pick of any team in the league to join this summer.
But while every team should at least make an inquiry, there are only a handful of desirable options for James, and even fewer that make plenty of sense.
The Cleveland Cavaliers
With that said, here’s a bite-size look at the pros and cons of the four teams leading the LeBron sweepstakes, and the likelihood of them landing the best player in the world.
The incumbents are the safe option, providing little upside but a floor James is certain of. Why hop over to the more gruelling West when you can continue to rule the East and return to the Finals every year? However, with Boston and Philadelphia on the rise, that may not be the reality anymore, especially with the Cavaliers having few avenues to improve themselves. Still, home is where the heart is and James may not see a better option worth leaving for.
If James wants to start his own handpicked super team, the Lakers would be the choice. They can create enough cap space for LeBron and another max contract star, like Paul George. They also have promising young players in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma who can supplement James and continue to grow. And no other city offers LeBron the same opportunity to expand his business ventures outside of basketball as he moves into the twilight of his career.
The contender with the best set-up at the moment to take down Golden State, the Rockets can pitch LeBron on him being the missing piece. They have star power and shooting, but how will the offence function when there are three ball-dominant players on the floor. It may be a problem worth figuring out, but to bring James aboard, general manager Daryl Morey will have to do some cap gymnastics to open up the necessary space for LeBron’s contract.
On the surface, the 76ers make a lot of sense as a LeBron destination. They’re already very good, have elite talent that is only going to get better and they play in the weaker Eastern Conference. The basketball fit, however, would be awkward between James, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the latter of whom is especially mitigated off the ball because of his lack of a jumper. Does LeBron really want to wait around for younger guys to develop?
Watch Gaafar ElSouri on the basketball comeback trail
The past two summers when LeBron James hit free agency with buzz of him switching teams, his decision to relocate caught the NBA world off-guard.
That won’t be the case this time around.
James moving to another city isn’t just a possibility this summer, it’s almost expected. There was more than enough speculation throughout the season of him hopping to another franchise, but the momentum has swelled after the Cleveland Cavaliers came up short of the finish line once again, suffering a sweep to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
LeBron is now 1-8 against the Warriors in June since Kevin Durant decided to drastically change the league’s balance of power, which has left the best player in the world banging his head against the wall – or hand against a whiteboard – at the end of the past two seasons.
Golden State have inspired a feeling of hopelessness around the league, but few have the means to actually do something about it like James does. He may not topple the Warriors wherever he goes, but trying and failing has to be a better alternative than staying put and suffering the same fate over and over again like he’s in Groundhog Day.
That is the problem with remaining in Cleveland – it’s gotten stale. And freshening it up to the extent needed may not be possible.
The team’s two biggest assets, Kevin Love and the eighth overall pick in the draft via Brooklyn, give Cleveland the slightest bit of maneuverability to change the roster. But Love as a standalone piece likely doesn’t get anywhere near equal value, while packaging the forward with the pick may not move the needle enough to make them competitive against the Warriors.
The same reason why the Cavaliers are facing these roster dynamics, however, is the same reason why LeBron can leave with a clear conscience. Cleveland have made win-now personnel decisions every year since James returned and the 2016 championship made it all worth it. LeBron delivered a title and because of it, his legacy and standing in Cleveland is secure. He doesn’t owe the fans or organisation anything anymore.
So unlike in 2014 when he cited his desire to lift up his hometown as a reason for his return, his decision this summer will be extremely personal.
James wants to win, sure. But he also has his family to think about. His oldest son, Bronny, is 13, while his younger son, Bryce, is about to turn 11. His three-year-old daughter Zhuri wasn’t even born last time LeBron made a move in free agency. Their stability, education and development will play a factor, likely more than ever.
Outside of Cleveland, the options are several. The issue, however, is that there doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut right option.
Los Angeles offers James the opportunity to grow his brand and enterprise, as well as the chance to start fresh with the Lakers capable of creating enough salary cap space to absorb two max contracts. But while building something new with a fellow star and a cast of promising kids may sound exciting, as James said after the Cavaliers season ended, “being a part of the start-fresh mode is something that you definitely don’t want to be a part of”.
What about Houston then? The Rockets were one win away from dethroning Golden State and have the likely MVP in James Harden, as well as one of LeBron’s best friends, Chris Paul. The sheer talent would give the Warriors a run for their money, but the fit between three of the most ball-dominant players in the league is a question mark.
Similar concerns over fit hurt Philadelphia’s chances. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are two of most talented young players in the league, but neither has proven to be reliable off the ball or capable of hitting an outside shot consistently.
Other teams may be in the running as well, but the point is there is no obvious choice for James. It seems like a foregone conclusion he’ll go somewhere, but where that destination is no one knows at this moment. Not even LeBron himself.
Here are Seven Deadly Stats from the Warriors’ triumphant Finals win.
ESTABLISHING A DYNASTY
This postseason was all about elevating themselves to the status of dynasty for the Warriors. And although there were a few hiccups along the way, especially the dogfight that was the Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets, they got there in the end.
The Warriors are the 4th different NBA franchise to win at least three titles in a 4-season span. They join the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 9, 2018
THE THIRD QUARTER LEGENDS
The Warriors’ third-quarter surges have become the stuff of legend. The last two games of the conference finals was proof enough – they overturned double-digit halftime deficits in the space of one quarter both times – but the last game of the Finals served as an encore, as they blew the game open with a typical third quarter.
The Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by 12 points in the 3rd quarter.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 9, 2018
This postseason, Golden State has outscored its opponents by 153 points in the 3rd quarter, the largest point diff in a single playoff quarter in the Shot-Clock Era (since 1954-55). h/t @EliasSports
IN ELITE COMPANY, PART I
Durant is the player who’s made the Warriors virtually unbeatable, but Curry remains the engine of the team. He averaged 27.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in the Finals, scoring 37 points in the clincher to put himself in a select group of players.
Stephen Curry is now the 8th player with 3 titles and multiple MVPs, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Tim Duncan. pic.twitter.com/fXqmshRgSZ— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 9, 2018
IN ELITE COMPANY, PART II
Speaking of Durant, he’s in an even more select group after his performance in these Finals, winning the series’ MVP award for the second year running.
It was a close call between Durant and Curry, but the former’s Game 3 performance – 43 points and a dagger three-pointer – probably clinched it in his favour.
Kevin Durant is the 6th player to win back-to-back Finals MVPs.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 9, 2018
The others? LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. pic.twitter.com/3x40zhKm2c
And on the off chance there was any room for doubt after that, Durant’s Game 4 performance sealed it. Even though Curry scored 37 points, a triple-double to close out a championship series is hard to top.
Kevin Durant posted his 1st career #NBAFinals triple-double with 20 PTS, 12 REB, 10 AST to help the @Warriors become 2017-2018 NBA Champions! KD is the 5th player in NBA history to produce a 20-point triple-double in a Finals-clinching victory. #SAPStatLineOfTheNight pic.twitter.com/4UBB5nAmdB— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) June 9, 2018
WHO’S THE GOAT?
Speaking of hard to top, LeBron James was so ridiculously good this postseason, there’s only ever been one playoff scoring run better than this. And of course that record belongs to Michael Jordan. Will the debate ever end?
With LeBron James out of the game, he finished with 748 points this postseason. That is the 2nd-most points in a single postseason in NBA history. Michael Jordan has the most with 759 points in 1992. pic.twitter.com/6XR5LDtM6z— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 9, 2018
CURRY’S DEFENDING HOLDS UP
James’ primary strategy on offense was to target the obvious mismatch: Curry. But the Warriors point guard did a good job of minimizing the damage – as did his teammates’ help defense whenever this matchup presented itself.
In the NBA Finals, there were 54 plays that ended with Stephen Curry on LeBron James. Curry held LeBron to 12 points, and the Cavaliers shot 36% as a team on those plays. pic.twitter.com/6DHhJ212QL— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 9, 2018
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