LeBron James free agency: Why the Lakers make the most sense as the dust settles
Wherever LeBron ends up, the NBA needs it to be somewhere other than Cleveland
In the wake of the Golden State Warriors predictably dismantling the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-0 in the NBA Finals, there was a strange feeling inside Quicken Loans Arena. Nobody seemed terribly excited, including the Warriors and their fans. Nobody seemed terribly upset, including the Cavs and their fans. The only thing anyone really seemed to care about was the Finals MVP vote, which went to Kevin Durant by a vote of 7-4 over Stephen Curry. It was the only part of the series in any doubt.
The Cavs had no business on the same court as Golden State.
Don't think for a second that LeBron James doesn't know this.
So here we go with another Summer of LeBron, whose free agency is again poised to take over the sports world. But this time, his decision feels different. Unlike when he left for Miami back in 2010, it does not feel like he's out to burn the league down -- it feels like he's out to save it. This is the NBA against Golden State. And when you're trying to take down perhaps the greatest team in league history, you need perhaps the greatest player in position to help.
LeBron in Cleveland is of no help in this fight. He is being wasted on a team that lacks the cap flexibility and/or tradable assets to measure up any time soon. At least in the past, LeBron has had an easier road through the woefully inferior Eastern Conference, but that luxury figures to be gone next year as well. If the Celtics are healthy or the 76ers grow and add reinforcements, this Cavs team is not going to the Finals next year. Does anyone really want to watch the best player in the world struggle to make the JV conference finals?
Greatness is supposed to court failure, not ensure it.
So the question becomes: where does he go? By now we all know the major teams in play. The Rockets. The Lakers. The 76ers. A few have suggested the Celtics as a possibility. Whispers about a potential reunion with the Heat are out there. The Spurs might be in play.
Right off the bat, I'm just going to say it: Please, LeBron, do not go to Boston. The Celtics already have a team, at full health, that seems capable of threatening Golden State, and even if they can't, we don't know that yet because we haven't seen them play together. They deserve a chance. Leave Kyrie alone.
From a competitive standpoint, Houston is obviously closest to taking out the Warriors. They almost did it this year, and you would have to figure adding LeBron to a core of James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela might well make Houston a favorite to beat Golden State, and wouldn't it be something to again see a Warriors team determined to prove people wrong? No one ever seems to bring out the best of the Warriors -- that only showed up for about two and a half of those seven games against Houston.
The problem: It would take some serious salary gymnastics to fit LeBron's max money onto their books. They already have to re-sign Chris Paul and Clint Capela for something close to max deals. Trevor Ariza is a free agent. Nobody is lining up to take on the almost $42 million left on Ryan Anderson's contract. That said, if LeBron wants to play for the Rockets, they'll make it work. Somehow. And it obviously would be fascinating to watch that team go at Golden State, and vice versa. That would be a pick-em series, if Houston wouldn't be a slight favorite.
The Sixers are interesting, but I have to tell you: this would feel like a little bit of a hijacking. The Sixers went through all this to build this team from the ground up, and then LeBron comes in and gets all the credit for potentially bringing them a championship? I'm quite certain the Sixers wouldn't care one lick about this perception, and Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid would be thrilled to play with LeBron, but to me, the Sixers feel compelling enough without him, though I will say LeBron on the Sixers would make the Eastern rivalry between Boston and Philly an absolute must-see come playoff time.
A reunion with Miami feels unlikely.
Kawhi Leonard and LeBron in San Antonio has a ring, for sure.
But the real play here, in my opinion, is LeBron and Paul George teaming up on the Lakers. All along this has felt like the most logical option with George's desire to return home and the Lakers' new cap space, which is enough for two max contracts -- ironically thanks to a deadline trade with the Cavs. Would a team with James, George and a young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and potentially Julius Randle (if there was a way to re-sign him along with the two stars) be enough to compete with the Warriors?
I don't know. But it would be fascinating to watch. Maybe the Lakers even get so excited by the prospect of title-hunting again that they'd be willing to consider trading Lonzo or Ingram in a deal to bring in a third star. Kawhi, anyone?
OK, now we're just talking crazy. But crazy things happen, especially when the Warriors are about to send the league out of its collective mind with their dominance, if they haven't already. They're a damn-near perfect team. LeBron is a damn-near perfect player. The Lakers, for the simple fact that there just aren't that many hoops to jump through to make this happen, feel like a damn-near perfect situation -- the greatest player of a generation, and maybe ever, restoring glory to league's marquee franchise. Either way, whether its the Lakers, or Houston, or Philly, LeBron needs to be in this fight, and he needs more help than he has in Cleveland.
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