I lived in Northeast Ohio for the greater part of my childhood, some 15 years. And it wouldn’t take much to be talked into leaving Northeast Ohio winters for sunny beaches and famous friends. But there is something to be said for the ties that bind. And although Cleveland would seemingly be the worst basketball situation for LeBron to pick, I do think they’re his second most likely option especially if he’s being honest with how much influence his family may have. Chances: How much does LeBron Jr. want to play under his father’s shadow or carve out his own path?
San Antonio (+2000) - There’s a lot of mutual respect on either side of these aisles. LeBron greatly admires Pop and the Spurs’ culture. Pop looks at LeBron as a near perfect player. Someone that cares about the beauty of the game as much as he does. And that type of potential cohesion of great basketball minds along with possibly teaming up with Kawhi could be enough for LeBron to seriously consider this option. But San Antonio means nothing to his family and LeBron wouldn’t want to commit multiple years to that small of a market. Probably the most interesting move basketball wise but everything else says no including how much salary the Spurs have to shed to afford him. Chances: Remember the Alamo? It’s not good.
Houston (+1000) - The biggest draw for Houston is that they have LeBron’s other bff, Chris Paul. They also have likely league MVP James Harden and the 2nd best team in the league. But the trick for Houston is what they’ll have to give up to get James. They would need to get rid of Ryan Anderson’s 2 year, $42 million contract for starters. If they can’t do that, they may need to trade up to 6 players to match LeBron’s salary in the also necessary sign and trade. Not knowing who the Rockets can keep and certain questions about Harden’s commitment might be enough to keep James away from Houston. Chances: Houston, we may have a problem.
New York (+750) - The Knicks are here because they’re a big market (the biggest) and they’re the most important franchise in the NBA. The Lakers are the most well known but the NBA gets lifted to another level when there’s a contender in Madison Square Garden. Hiring LeBron approved Dave Fizdale to be head coach is a shrewd move but I don’t see LeBron and his family trading Lake Effect winters for East Coast ones. Chances: About as good as James Dolan is an owner.
Miami (+500) - Familiarity, location, and the Tao of Pat Riley most likely has Miami this high on the list. They have a proven track record, a flashy, suave winner at the helm, and a nice no income tax plus nice weather combo with which to attract talent. But Miami would have to make some moves to free up space and don’t currently have the most attractive pieces at least compared to most of these other teams. And I don’t think LeBron pictures his legacy as going back and forth between the Cavs and the Heat. Chances: More Fredo than Michael.
Philadelphia (+350) - From a purely basketball talent perspective, LeBron probably couldn’t find a better spot than Philly. Embiid and Simmons are on their way to becoming superstars and at ages 24 and 21 respectively, no other franchise can boast 2 young guys at their level. Like these 2 could be the future of the NBA at each of their respective positions. The Sixers also have the cap space to sign LeBron. Although they don’t have enough to sign another max free agent, they have plenty of assets including the number 1 pick of the 2017 draft in Markelle Fultz and the 10th pick this year. They could perhaps be the best trade partner for a Kawhi Leonard (who was recently seen privately by someone who’s also Philadelphia’s chief medical doctor).
That means Philadelphia can potentially present a lineup including Joel Embiid, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard (or Paul George), and Ben Simmons. That’s more talent than the Warriors big 4. There are questions of fit in the City of Brotherly Love however. Multiple sources say there are concerns with how LeBron will fit particularly with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. LeBron’s not really played before with as dominant a big man as Embiid and Simmons is a younger version of LeBron minus a semblance of a jump shot. I think they can make it work because although LeBron has usually been a ball dominant player, he doesn’t need to be. With a proper point guard, LeBron can play off the ball and maybe work more out of the post. A way to transition into the twilight of his career.
Philly is also in the East and with Boston really the only major threat in their way, a Finals trip would be easier to come by. But what about legacy? LeBron would still be joining 2 budding superstars and history may not look kindly on him coasting to titles on their team. LeBron’s got a few games in play here and one them is ending up as the GOAT. How his next move will affect his legacy in this regard is something on LeBron’s mind. LeBron’s future as a brand and his business plans are another of the games LeBron has his mind on. Philly’s proximity to NYC and it’s own status as the 4th largest television market in the country make that relatively palatable.
But Philly doesn’t set off fireworks when it comes to where LeBron’s family may want to settle for the long run. LeBron of course has the option of doing a 1, 2, or 3 year deal with player options. He can really play in any city while his family settles into their top choice. But I sense a different mood this time around. Chances: About as good as Joel Embiid never getting injured again.
Los Angeles (+200) - The L.A. media hype machine is working overtime right now. Its symbiotic relationship with the Lakers only growing stronger in times like these. Laker Nation just caught some hopeflakes on their tongue and they’re drinking all of the Kool-Aid. So of course the media will drum up reports of free agents going to L.A. to get those ever profitable clicks. And the media perpetuates its own bias in favor of advertising and LeBron to L.A. rumors gain credibility even though the Lakers really haven’t signed a superstar in free agency since 1996 with Shaquille O’Neal. (unless like me, you count 2006 (Jimmy Jackson)). The rest of the league will hope that history repeats itself and Los Angeles is shut out once again.
It may not be so simple this year. Out of all the teams listed, the Lakers come closest to hitting all of the marks. They may not have the most talent presently but they’re the only team that can sign 2 max free agents, and have the assets to trade for a 3rd. In 1996, Jerry West was the architect of that monumental Shaq signing. Magic Johnson who took on the mantle of ‘Mr. Laker’ from West is the new guy in charge now and the Lakers have been prepping for this summer of LeBron since the moment he took over. They can free up $18 million if they can somehow trade Luol Deng which isn’t likely, but simply stretching his contract would allow them to sign James, another max free agent like Paul George/Chris Paul, and still retain young stud Julius Randle.
The Lakers are already set for the long term future with a lot of young talent in Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart. If LeBron signs along with a Paul George, the Lakers have choices. They’re young talent is probably 2 years away from entering their prime. In two years, the Warriors are going to have to consider losing Klay Thompson or Draymond Green. This sets up L.A. perfectly 2 years from now and with Ingram, Kuzma, Ball, and Hart currently on rookie contracts, for a long time after that. And if one year can’t be sacrificed in the quest for rings, a couple of those guys can be traded for veteran talent, possibly a superstar.
And believer you me, it will be easier to get veterans to take under value contracts with L.A. than it was in Cleveland. And that’s another area L.A. does strongly in. LeBron has 2 mansions in Brentwood alone and his family spends the summers here. His sons play basketball on teams in L.A. during the summer. It’s a place his family is already familiar with and I can only imagine the slumber parties at Jaden Smith’s or whoever else’s the kids think are cool these days.
I also do not want to discount the final aspect that also helps Los Angeles. For someone looking to get their Hollywood production company off the ground, setting up home base in the 2nd largest market in the country, while under the guidance of a legendary basketball star turned billion dollar business entity based in that area makes a lot of sense. If LeBron truly wants to set some roots down and transitional smoothly from the end of his NBA career to his dream of becoming a mogul, nothing could really be set up better for him. And if LeBron tells his family he wants to go to L.A., I don’t think he hears any sobbing.
I think Los Angeles makes the most sense for him because it hits so many marks. He might have to wait one year longer for true title contention but this team would be very close with the addition of two superstars. It would take all of that falling into place and LeBron not being swayed by friendship in Houston, mentorship in Philadelphia, and knowledge in San Antonio. But Magic doesn’t care. He’ll do what it takes, wink-winking his way to LeBron “buying” a small minority stake in the Lakers once he’s retired. I’ll also predict that he’ll play for about 4 to 5 more years before he ends his career playing one year wherever LeBron Jr. plays, if he’s ever as lucky as his father.