The 2018 NBA off-season is shaping up to be one of the best of all time. There is a host of superstar free agents, all linked with a multitude of franchises. No one player embodies this current state of affairs better than LeBron James. Entering his 16th season in the league, he is still the best player in the world, still the best free agent on the market and still demands a max contract. It’s anyone’s guess as to where he will end up, but here are the most likely destinations.
Los Angeles Lakers
If LeBron does leave his beloved Cleveland, this is being touted as the most likely destination, and the stars are aligning for a blockbuster move to the City of Angels. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have steered the Lakers in the right direction, freeing up approximately $60m in cap space, and that is still with Luol Deng’s contract. LeBron already owns two houses in LA, and this is reportedly the preferred destination of his family should he leave Cleveland, which has been said to be a factor in his decision. One thing of note is that LeBron has never joined a team alone, he always brings a star with him, and that star is strongly expected to be Paul George another free agent. Kawhi Leonard has also demanded a trade to the Lakers, so if they can bring in Paul George and trade for Kawhi Leonard, LeBron joins two of the best two-way stars in the league, on a major franchise with some of the brightest young talent in the league, playing in a big market like Los Angeles, a city that his family are more than comfortable living in. It almost seems too perfect a situation, should it play out how it should.
The best team last season not named Golden State was the Houston Rockets. Managing a 65-win season featuring the 2018 MVP, James Harden, is enough of a sign to show how strong of a team they are. Coupled with one of LeBron’s closest friends, Chris Paul, on that same team, with Mike D’antoni coaching, you can see how this team came so close to dispatching the Warriors. In fact, Chris Paul has reportedly already begun trying to recruit LeBron to Houston. If they were to sign LeBron, it would take a lot of roster overhaul. Chris Paul has to re-sign a contract, and he wants max money, so in order to fit his and LeBron’s new contracts, it would take a lot of roster tinkering, which could mean losing their Centre, Clint Capela, and a host of exceptional role players. If anyone can make it work, it’s their GM Daryl Morey, and LeBron himself, who has always found a way to create chemistry on the court. If this somehow comes to fruition, even with the manoeuvring it requires, we may finally have a team to dethrone Golden State.
Trust the Process. Those are the words the Philly board was saying to their fans, throughout all their tanking years, and the process seems to be working. They boast perhaps the two best young stars on their team, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and came off a successful season in which they manage the 3rd seed in the East, ahead of LeBron’s Cavaliers. Things are only looking up for Philadelphia, but as Boston are about to once again become the power in the East, adding LeBron would give them that edge and allow him to continue his decade-long dominance of the conference. There is a concern that LeBron is not required, as Philly already have Simmons who was just awarded the Rookie of the Year. But LeBron has been mentoring Simmons from Day One, and his presence and leadership will only help elevate the young star, the entire team, to greatness.
San Antonio Spurs
When comparing LeBron James to other greats of the game like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, a big argument that gets brought up is that LeBron has never played under a legendary coach. Michael and Kobe both played under Phil Jackson, whilst the best coach LeBron ever had was Erik Spoelstra, who while good, is not on the same level as Phil Jackson. This is where Gregg Popovich comes in, as he is easily one of the best coaches in history. He and LeBron both are in admiration of each other, so they would get along immediately. While Kawhi Leonard’s situation is a mystery to anyone, if Pop can somehow snag LeBron, then it could be enough to convince Kawhi to stay and extend his contract with the Spurs, which is reported to be a 5-year deal worth $219m. The Spurs are also notorious for taking care of their stars, and if Pop feels that he can rest his players for the long haul, then he will do so. Although LeBron is a certified Iron Man, he will be 34 years old next season, and Pop’s management will allow him to preserve his body, and maintain his high standard for years to come. LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and a rejuvenated Lamarcus Aldridge under Gregg Popovich’s tutelage, that’s a contender.
There’d be something oddly satisfying that, among all the commotion and the supposed guarantee that LeBron is leaving, he accepts his player option with Cleveland. It wouldn’t necessarily be the worst option in the world to stay for just one more year. The age argument doesn’t hold too much weight, as he’s shown no signs of slowing down, in fact he might be getting better. Adding to that, in a year’s time he’ll be a free agent and the options are still going to be plentiful. The Lakers will have freed up more cap space and will have another year of development for their young stars, and they likely could have acquired Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, all but sealing the deal for LeBron to join LA a year later than expected. Waiting a year gives him a chance to assess Philadelpha more closely, and see how much they can develop after a year of being in the playoffs, if the hype is as real as people think. As for San Antonio, it gives them a chance to solve the Kawhi Leonard dilemma, which allows more clarity for LeBron on where his options are at basketball wise. If that isn’t enough, he also likes it in Cleveland, it’s his hometown, and his family are settled there too. It’s not the glamour city like LA, but he went back for a reason, he’s attached, so it’s not out of the question that he accepts his player option with the Cavs and signs on for one more year.