It’s been the biggest question looming over the NBA this season: where will LeBron James take his talents next?
While the greatest player of his generation failed to capture his fourth championship this season, in the short-term at least, LeBron remains the most coveted talent in the league. He single-handedly transforms any roster into a title contender (see: 2017-18 Cavaliers), and paired with another star or two would, with these Golden State Warriors as the only exception, turn his team into a favourite to win it all.
Virtually any team would move mountains in order to land James, who will be an unrestricted free agent once he officially opts out of his contract this summer. In fact, players from around the league have already extended open invites to join their teams following Friday’s Game 4 loss:
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) June 9, 2018
The body isnt even cold yet pic.twitter.com/S6Dm5Mr804
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) June 9, 2018
With a wide-open landscape to choose from, LeBron hasn’t indicated where he intends to play next season. The rumour mill has been working overtime, with plenty of teams mentioned as possible landing spots. Even the Toronto Raptors were named as a “darkhorse” landing spot.
(Don’t hold your breath waiting for that one to happen, Raps fans).
Decision 3.0 will shake up the future of the NBA. Here are some factors that could determine where LeBron James will play next season and beyond.
On the court, it could be hard to consider James staying given the roster limitations of the Cavaliers. But the team could be a move or two away from improving their supporting cast: Kevin Love and the 8th overall pick in the upcoming 2018 draft are their best trade chips and could fetch an intriguing return.
The Cavs wouldn’t be a “super team” if James stayed, but even in an improving East they could easily remain a lock to reach the Finals.
When James evaluates all of his options, Cleveland could still be the most comfortable setting for him. After a messy breakup in 2010, he’s since earned back the unwavering love of the fan base by winning the 2016 championship. As they say, the grass isn’t always greener…
Have you seen how hard James has had to work in order to get Cleveland this far?
Especially with the departure of Kyrie Irving, James has a greater burden to dominate all facets of the game in order to give his team a chance to win than anybody else in the league.
James logs more minutes than any other player in the NBA — and it’s not even close — and year after year we watch the excruciating physical and mental toll it takes to keep the Cavs competitive. That may have been fine a few years ago, but James will be 34 years old next season and playing on a roster that offers a little more support could go a long way to extending his career.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
You’ve probably heard by now that James owns two recently purchased homes in the L.A. area. This has been presented, throughout the season, as evidence he is aiming to orchestrate a full-time move to Southern California. I don’t particularly buy that as a chief motivator, but there are plenty of legitimate basketball reasons that would bring The King to Los Angeles.
The Lakers — win or lose, the NBA’s marquee franchise — are positioned to have a ton of cap space this summer and next, which would allow them to sign James as well as another all-star level talent or two. Paul George has been linked to the Lakers via free agency, and even names like DeMarcus Cousins and Kawhi Leonard have come up in reports.
In L.A., James has the chance to essentially have a roster built around him, one that could hypothetically compete with Golden State and allow him to add to his legacy. Plus, James would get a first-hand mentorship under Lakers legend and team president Magic Johnson, somebody whose non-basketball business ventures and acumen are reportedly appealing to James, who is said to be looking to expand his own personal empire, including a Hollywood production company.
Does James want to spend the next two summers recruiting players? There is an existing roster of promising young talent in L.A., but pieces like Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram aren’t ready to compete for a title yet, and so the Lakers will have to make plenty of moves to position themselves to win now. As this year’s Cavs team proved, there are no guarantees that trades work out as intended.
What’s more, a move to the West seriously impacts James’s ongoing Finals appearance streak. He could wind up facing the Warriors in the second round and, with Kevin Durant expected to re-sign, the defending champions aren’t slowing down anytime soon.
If toppling this Warriors dynasty — James’s biggest impediment to winning a fourth ring — is a priority, then there is no better opportunity than in Houston.
It would take some miracles working the salary cap and getting teams to take on the hefty contracts of players like Ryan Anderson, but if any general manager can pull that off it’s Houston’s Daryl Morey.
With James in the fold, the Rockets could trot out a lineup featuring LeBron, James Harden, Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker. Now that’s a super team.
James’s versatility is one of his greatest traits, but it’s hard to imagine him playing off the ball to the degree that he would have to if he teamed up with Harden and Paul.
Also, as great as he is, it seems like it isn’t a whole lot of fun playing with Paul (just ask his ex-Clippers teammates), and, while the two are long-time friends, that sort of thing is absolutely a factor when you have seemingly limitless options of where and how you want to spend the next chapter of a career.
The 76ers are already ahead of schedule and, thanks to young stars like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, have the makings of a potential NBA finalist as early as next season. And that’s without James in the mix.
Throw in the league’s biggest force and the sky is the limit.
The on-court fit in Philadelphia may be the most questionable of all the destinations listed here. James works best when surrounded by shooters who can stretch the floor to create space for him to drive to the hoop, and are ready to catch and shoot once he inevitably draws multiple defenders and kicks it out to the perimeter.
Simmons flat-out does not shoot jumpers. A whopping 83 per cent of his shots came within 10 feet this past season, and he attempted a grand total of one three-pointer (he missed). A player like, say, Paul George is an easy fit beside James because of his ability to make defenders pay for double-teaming LeBron. The same can’t necessarily be said of Simmons.
Counterpoint: Dwyane Wade — who was better in 2010 than either Simmons or Embiid today — wasn’t a skilled three-point shooter when James joined him in Miami, and needless to say they found a way to make it work.
With the potential level of talent in Philly, they could find a way to make it work, too, but it won’t be easy.