The season that seemed to never end, many different players have come and gone during the 2017-2018 season for Cleveland. A tumultuous season, to say the least, the Cavs were a weekly soap opera with many different actors dying off or being written off the show. It seemed the plot was constantly changing, whether it was the Isaiah Thomas saga or small episodes like JR throwing soup at an assistant coach. The team that once had so much hope, had been stripped by February with a complete overhaul, in what appeared to be a bandage job attempting to salvage the season. This season started with such hope with a revamped roster full of seasoned vets, a team constructed to compete with Warriors, was unable to beat their own issues throughout the season. After losing to the Golden State Warriors 4-0 in this years NBA finals, many assume this will be the final time LeBron dons a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey. Pun aside, the ball is in LeBron’s court, he’s the one controlling his own legacy for the foreseeable future with this upcoming Free Agency. If he is sticking true to previous statements, LeBron will accept nothing less than a max, making this an exciting summer.
Facing the twilight of his career, in an era dominated by a avengers type team, the Warriors, LeBron is hunting for rings. After another David vs. Goliath against GSW, decisions must be made. In these final 3-7 seasons, are rings all that matter, does he really mean he wants to stay in “Championship Mode”. It’s been reported over the past couple months he will meet with pursors such as the Lakers, Spurs, 76ers, Rockets, Warriors, Cavs, and the Celtics. Four of these supposed teams make sense while the Celtics and the Warriors make as much sense as KD joining the Warriors did. LeBron has already been the villain of the NBA once before and whether he likes admitting it or not, he cares how his legacy is ultimately perceived twenty years from now. Heading to a franchise like the Warriors or even the Celtics would come off as weak and a worse mark on his career than “The Decision”. I believe he will be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers this year but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the running completely.
Philadelphia 76ers: 30% chance
If LeBron’s goal is to remain the king of the Eastern Conference, the 76ers offer the quickest run at finals in the east and longest championship window. An intriguing team, to say the least, armed with a very young core, anchored by Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The 76ers showed glimpses of greatness throughout their promising year. Loaded with 30 Million dollars in cap space coming up for the next season, bolstering their roster with LeBron James takes them from finals hopeful to almost a finals lock. They would have a small advantage over a healthy Boston Celtics, even with Hayward and Kyrie. This option gives LeBron another attempt at an eastern conference dynasty with the goal of a couple more championship runs. The Sixers are already a deep team, surrounding playmakers with great three-point shooting. Ben Simmons gives LeBron the ability to play off the ball and at the 4 position on offense, arguably his best position on the offensive end. Having Ben Simmons orchestrate offense gives LBJ what he wants in a playmaker. The 76ers young legs are led by a coach respected by James, but did their playoff performance hurt their chances of securing LeBron? If Embiid and Simmons are able to stay healthy and Fultz can be an 18, 5, 5 player, this could be a perfect marriage.
Houston Rockets: 25% chance
Despite recent reports of him already deciding against Houston, Houston offers him the ability to play off the ball much more. During this regular season, he stated he wanted to play off ball more next season, believing that’s where he is most deadly. Of all the teams of LeBron’s possible suitors, the Rockets may be his best chance to dethrone the Warriors. Joining forces with Harden and Chris Paul, isolation ball would be even more lethal down in space city. From an offensive standpoint, at all times of a playoff game, you would have one of those three orchestrating and creating offense, at all times. I can only imagine Dantoni is salivating at the thought of running “Stagger Series” or “Chicago/Pistol” with this trio. However, the Rockets would have to either accept stripping their bench for Bron’s services or shell out a massive chunk of change this season. Their luxury tax numbers will be thru the roof if they’re unable to rid themselves of Ryan Anderson’s horrific 20 million cap hit and restructure Eric Gordon down from 13.5 million. The Rockets new owner has stated money is just a number to him for this upcoming season and is even willing to use bird rights to retain Clint Capela, max out CP3 and LeBron James. If this is true, footing the massive $280+ million bill for the 2018-2019 season would give the Rockets the upper hand on paper against GSW. If LeBron chooses not to come to Houston, I believe his dislike for the city and having Dantoni as the head coach will be the deterrents. It’s no secret that Dantoni’s career is full of shortcomings and missteps, couple that with his inadequacies as a coach and you have a reason for LeBron to choose not to join forces in Houston this summer.
Los Angeles Lakers: 25% chance
LeBron may reside in LA during the offseason but that but in no way means he wants to play for the Lakers or any other California team for that matter. Stranger things have happened though and it’s been reported his oldest son will be playing high school basketball in LA this upcoming season. As he’s previously stated, his family will play a huge role in his decision this summer, giving the Lakers a slight advantage. Yet, as a team, the Lakers are a group of kids. They still are an unproven bunch and have strides to make in their games collectively, however, their salary cap flexibility makes them interesting. They have enough cap space, after clearing either the Deng salary or withdrawing their cap hold on Julius Randle (easy to do), to sign two max contracts this offseason. This is a huge upside compared to the other teams in the LeBron sweepstakes, they give him the flexibility to sign with fellow star Free Agent Paul George. On top of having cap flexibility, their roster is filled with young and talented assets that could be flipped for an established star to create a “Big 3”. It’s been rumored the last two days that they’re attempting to trade for Hassan Whiteside and of course, rumored they are a lock to sign PG13. The only feasible way I see LeBron going to the Lakers is if they are able to bring a star or two to pair LeBron with, which makes it time for Magic and Rob Pelinka to work their magic. No one should count the Lakers out but if LeBron is truly dedicated to stacking as many rings as possible in the twilight of his career, there are better options to win right away. Of course, it would be interesting to have LeBron in LA, having a city to aid in his pitch for players to join forces with him down the road. As of now, some pieces will need to be put in place before he wears the purple and gold unless the lure of Hollywood can pull him in. LA has the easiest path of any of the other suitors to land LeBron’s services this summer but can they pull it off?
Cleveland Cavaliers: 5 % chance
Not much to say here in all honesty. The roster will have to be retooled and pieces will have to be brought in to retain LeBron. Many of the contracts on roster are hard to dump, think Tristan, JR, and George Hill—hurting their ability to bring any enticing piece to persuade the King to return to his castle. I believe the only reason he would decide to remain with Cleveland is his love for the city and his fear of tarnishing his legacy.
San Antonio: 15% chance
A dark horse candidate in all this discussion, but the most fascinating and possibly his greatest fit. It’s no secret LBJ loves and respects Greg Popovich more than any other coach in NBA history and has been very vocal about his fandom of Dejounte Murray. He believes in the Spurs system and knows him and Pop teaming up would be incredible, the chess master with the best piece. Pop and RC Bufford will do whatever needs to be done, whether it’s restructuring deals like Pau Gasol and Danny Green or even trading players. Much like how the Rockets will work the cap in ways to get the job done, I doubt the Spurs let cap space get in their way. Teaming with Kawhi Leonard, if healthy, and LeBron James is a nightmare for opposing teams. Two of the best all-around players in the league, supported by Popovich, they would be armed and deadly enough to dethrone the Warriors.
Ultimately, I believe that LeBron’s decision hasn’t been solidified yet. I think how his meetings with each team go and his families input will heavily influence who he suits up for next season. Regardless of where he plays next year, I truly believe LeBron will play his final season in Cleveland, his swan song.