LeBron James drew the ire of the basketball world for his decision to leave Cleveland in the summer of 2010 in order to join the Miami Heat. “The Decision” created loads of backlash at the time, and the Heat were the villains of the league during his four years on South Beach. However, he was universally praised for his decision to rejoin the Cavaliers three seasons ago.
He wanted to come back and help the Cavs to their first ever NBA title, and the city of Cleveland’s first championship in over 50 years. After coming up just short in his first season back in Ohio, James kept that promise and led the Cavaliers to the title in 2016. They were soundly beaten in the Finals earlier this month by the Golden State Warriors, but LeBron has done his job.
As a result, there has been speculation over the last few days regarding LeBron’s potential future elsewhere. Now that he’s done what he said he would do in Cleveland, he will likely be able to leave the city again with far less ridicule this time around. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical said on his podcast earlier in the week that James may very well leave the Cavaliers following next season, when he’ll be a free agent:
Woj said, “Not only is there no guarantee he’s coming back, I’m not sure there’s an expectation he’s re-signing there. I think they feel, I think within Cleveland and around the league, they feel that he’s very much in play to leave again and likely head out West to one of the two L.A. teams. The Lakers could very well be a target.
The possibility of Miami again, based on how they, what that team looks like and where they are. Would Dwyane Wade go back there?
But I think the focus, a lot of LeBron’s – his business interests, his Hollywood aspirations, his media ventures are base 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 then 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 to bring a title to Cleveland.”
So, if James does leave, where’s he going? Let’s break it down.
Los Angeles Lakers +400
Woj mentions that if James is to leave Cleveland, then somewhere on the west coast makes sense. James purchased a home in Los Angeles a few years back, and we know LeBron wants to be involved in Hollywood stuff as his career progresses and after he retires from hoops. There are two teams in Los Angeles, of course, but the Lakers are the glamour club compared to the Clippers.
The Lakers are currently in the midst of a rebuild, but they would have to change everything if LeBron were to indicate he wants to don the Purple and Gold. They have several appealing young pieces already in place, which should make it rather easy for them to facilitate a few trades in order to surround James with more established veterans.
We’re assuming LeBron gets through next season healthy. There is a question of fit otherwise here, though. Do the Lakers want to mortgage their long-term future to accommodate James, who will be 33 next summer? He’s a superhuman that has shown no signs of slowing down, but age catches up with everybody. LeBron won’t be this LeBron forever. At some point, he’ll decline. The Lakers certainly won’t tell James “no” if he wants to come on board, but will they consent to jettisoning most of the youth from the roster in an attempt to win now?
We would say yes. The Lakers have been awful for the last few seasons, and the fan base in Los Angeles is restless. They need to rebuild the thing into a contender as soon as possible. If that means giving up on guys like D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram to appease a player of LeBron’s caliber, so be it.
Still, we’re not buying that LeBron will be wooed by the Lakers’ legacy.
Los Angeles Clippers +200
So there are two teams in L.A. James can join whichever he wants. The Clippers are actually the far better team these days, which makes this a very interesting proposition. James has enjoyed a longtime friendship with Clipper point guard Chris Paul, and the two have reportedly entertained the idea of joining forces in the past. It hasn’t happened yet, but LeBron could always come west to join CP3 in Tinseltown.
This summer will dictate plenty, but the Clippers have already taken a huge step forward by snagging longtime executive Jerry West from the Golden State Warriors. West will instantly add some legitimacy to the Clippers’ operation as a whole, and he’s been instrumental in building championship teams in the past. He would have James’ ear if James were to look to find a new home.
CP3 and Blake Griffin will be free agents this summer. They both appear likely to remain with the Clips, though it’s no guarantee. Griffin’s departure likely wouldn’t affect LeBron’s interest in joining the Clippers either way, but Paul deciding to stick around could be the first step in their LeBron courtship. Securing Paul on a new long-term deal is likely priority No. 1 for LAC over the next month.
If everyone sticks around, the Clips could theoretically boast a foursome of James, Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. That still may not match the insane firepower of the team from the Bay Area, but it would clearly make them the top challenger to Golden State’s perch atop the Western Conference.
We like the Clippers a lot here, and think their chances are even better than the Lakers’ at landing King James.
Golden State Warriors +1000
Just kidding. Not a chance.
Miami Heat +800
Woj mentioned that there is a rumor going around that James could go right back to Miami once he decides he’s had enough of Cleveland. The relationship between he and Pat Riley seemed to sour when James left the Heat last time, but the same thing happened with the Cavs’ Dan Gilbert. Relationships can be patched back together. If LeBron wants to go back to Miami, Riley would welcome him with open arms.
The Heat are going to find themselves with a lot of free money, as was the case when James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces seven years ago. They can find a taker for Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside if need be, which would essentially give Riley a clean slate with which to build around LeBron.
Would Wade return? There’s no telling. He’s clearly on the back-9 of his career, so if he were to come aboard (and repair his own damaged relationship with Riley) he would likely just be a complementary piece. It isn’t particularly difficult to sell NBA players on going to play in Miami. It pretty much sells itself.
This is certainly possible, but we think the smoke around the fire regarding James’ interest in moving to the west coast is more realistic. A lot can change within the span of a year, but we don’t really see the Heat as a particularly realistic option.
Sacramento Kings +500000
This would be fun just from a narrative perspective. The Kings are the closest geographical rivals to the Warriors, and it would be amazing to see LeBron and his Kings superteam take on the Warriors four times every regular season and into the postseason. LeBron also played his first ever NBA game in Sacramento with the Cavs. Other than being near the west coast, though, there’s no reason to believe LeBron would actually join the NBA’s most dysfunctional organization. Move along.
New York Knicks +10000
West coast be damned, LeBron has not been shy about voicing his love of New York City in years past. The Knicks were one of the teams he considered joining in 2010, and he could always revisit the idea eight years later.
One thing that could throw a wrench into the Knicks’ potential as a landing spot is the Carmelo Anthony situation. The Knicks are expected to trade Anthony this summer. James and Anthony have been friends for a long time, and Melo is another guy LeBron has spoken about playing with in the past. It’s tough to imagine Anthony returning to New York after just one year, especially given the ugly way in which that relationship has soured. Would LeBron go back to the team that just stabbed his friend in the back publicly?
In terms of basketball potential, though, there’s something here. Kristaps Porzingis looks like a superstar-in-the-making, and Willy Hernangomez came on strong as a potential center of the future as a rookie last year. Outside of those two, the Knicks are something of a clean slate. We’re really only listing them here because LeBron seems to enjoy New York. Otherwise, they’re a true longshot.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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