LeBron James opted out of the final year of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers and became a free agent this week. He will consult personal friends over the next few days to decide where he will play next.
He must decide if he wants to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and try to make it back to the finals or test out free agency. LeBron is not new to making these types of decisions, as his first free agency period was infamously called “The Decision,” a nationally televised event. He ultimately decided to take his talents to South Beach and team up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat.
After winning two titles in four years in Miami, LeBron was not satisfied and had unfinished business to take care of in Cleveland. For his second decision, he wrote a letter to the Player’s Tribune saying that he was heading home to play with Kyrie Irving and was eventually joined by Kevin Love.
Two years after returning he lead the Cleveland Cavaliers as they became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals and bring the first professional title to Cleveland in over 50 years.
Since the addition of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors, the Cavs have only beaten them once in the past two NBA finals. LeBron did all he could, averaging 33 points per game in 2017 and 34 per game in 2018. LeBron looked like the best player on the court for almost every game against the Warriors and his herculean efforts are still not enough, given the inconsistent play from his teammates.
Is winning the most important thing? If so, will he be willing to take a pay cut so a team can have a better chance of retaining assets and have the best chance at winning a title now? Or is he more worried about his personal brand and his business ventures?
For his third decision and possibly his last big free agency decision of his career, LeBron will have many suitors vying for his talents from all across the league. He will have to decide what matters most to him for what might possibly be his final team and destination.
Teams who probably have no shot:
The team to beat over next decade in the Eastern Conference. After losing Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving during the regular season the team was carried by promising rookie Jayson Tatum, who looks like a future star in the league. Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown also took big steps this year in their development and Marcus Smart was a stout defender and energy guy off the bench. Al Horford played like an all-star for most of the season.
LeBron should pull a Kevin Durant and hop on the best team in the conference and make sure he can win multiple titles for the foreseeable future. They don’t really need LeBron, and would probably not want to upset what they have. Also, the Celtics have been LeBron’s longtime career rival in the Eastern Conference and it would be so weird to see him in the Celtic green.
This should not even be remotely considered or entertained. I believe the Warriors hate him and he hates them and couldn’t see him ever on that team. They would most likely have to give up Draymond Green and Klay Thompson in order to get LeBron, but a team of Durant, Curry, and LeBron would still be unstoppable.
This would break the NBA and render the entire season and playoffs uninteresting and a foregone conclusion. 82-0?
The Houston Rockets had one of their best seasons in franchise history finishing, first in the West with 65 wins. They looked poised to be the first team to give the new look a Warriors a real test. They went up 3- 2 after winning game 5 at home but lost Chris Paul to injury, which allowed the Warriors to win Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road.
The Rockets were so close with the team they have right now and want another crack at the Warriors. James Harden finally got the MVP award he has probably deserved two times already in the past four years. Adding LeBron would probably mean losing Clint Capela in free agency and most likely Trevor Ariza and PJ Tucker. The fit is also a concern as Paul, Harden, and James all need the ball in their hands and is LeBron willing to play more off ball and become a spot up shooter?
The 76ers are the other team in the East poised to be in the finals over the next decade. Joel Embiid and Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons are the future of the team and promise to be even better next year. Dario Saric took a step up this past season and J.J. Reddick thrived in his role as a 3-point marksmen coming off screens.
The team does have some young assets and still have a chance at trading for Kawhi Leonard. Letting go of Covington, Fultz, Saric, and Reddick could possibly land them LeBron and Kawhi. The same question of fit and enough shots to go around would exist in Philly as well. Simmons and LeBron are very similar players and he could possibly stunt Simmons growth taking the ball at of his hands.
Los Angeles Lakers
The early favorite to the land the King had hopefully their last season missing the playoffs. Rookie Kyle Kuzma looked like one of the best steals of the draft and an early ROY candidate. Lonzo Ball took some time, but progressed as the season went on.
The Lakers have the cap space to sign two max contracts and the ability to sign anyone in the league with LA as the backdrop. The Lakers are also the favorites to land Kawhi Leonard by trade, but would probably have to give up the majority of their young talent. An ideal scenario of signing LeBron, and Paul George and trading for Kawhi would make the Lakers instant contenders again and bring back one of the biggest brands in sports.
His hometown team still has a shot to bring him back after making back to the finals for the fourth straight year. The Cavs had an up and down year, as multiple players ended up injured for long stretches of the season and the big midseason trade at the deadline.
They finished fourth in the East and with 50 wins, were only one win shy of their total from the previous season. The Cavs had basically no shot against the Warriors but came out and played their best game of the playoffs and perhaps season. LeBron was putting one of the best performances of his career before it all came crashing down in the final two minutes.
A reverse charge call, a missed free throw, a brain fart, and unused timeout wasted one of the greatest performances of all time. The Cavs are held hostage by bad deals for Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith at the behest of LeBron. They also look to finish behind the 76ers and Celtics, and go into next season with big problems, unless major changes happen.
LeBron just had the best postseason run of his career averaging 34 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists a game. He is somehow still at the height of his powers and still getting better after 15 years in the league. What will season 16 bring and where will it be played?
My prediction is the beautiful city of angels and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Ever wished you could start a career covering your favorite sport? Have you spent time wishing you could combine your love of sports with your passion for writing and reporting? CMN’s Sports Journalism course is an experiential learning program designed to give the practical experience you need to get your foot in the door in this ultra-competitive industry. You’ll get useful, direct feedback on your reporting, exposure to experienced sports journalists and influencers, and a great place to build your portfolio. You can get college credit, too. Get all the details on the CMN's Sports Journalism Course here.