One of the biggest questions that has stuck around this NBA season is, where will Lebron James be playing next year? Lebron has a player option for next season that he is sure to decline, meaning he can test free agency and all 30 NBA teams can try to pull one of the greatest NBA players of alltime onto their rosters. Lebron has reportedly narrowed his list of potential suitors to four teams, including the Cavaliers, Lakers, Rockets and 76ers. But where is the best fit?
The first possibility is that Lebron stays home in Cleveland. This would be his worst basketball move. The team has a tight salary cap, which leaves no room for any big free agents. Lebron would have to continue playing alongside Kevin Love, who’s well past his time and plenty of rosterfillers including overpaid veterans like J.R Smith and Tristan Thompson. It’s tough to imagine this team beating any formidable opponent in a seven-game series. It’s finally time to stop believing in the Cavaliers and, if Lebron didn’t have such an emotional connection to Cleveland, there would be no chance of him returning. But the bond between James and the city of Cleveland remains strong and, if he leaves, will he be able to withstand being the biggest villain in the city where he was raised?
I believe he will. He’s already delivered a championship to his hometown and he’s driven the agenda for player movement in the NBA, so I believe that he will leave Cleveland.
Another potential suitor is the Los Angeles Lakers, an interesting fit, because they have the cap space to bring in another star (Paul George?) and, if they could do that, it’s a for sure playoff roster. But that would be about as far as they go. While Lebron and rookie Lonzo Ball could move the ball around the court at an elite level, it’s tough for me to imagine Lebron wanting to play on a team currently ranked 29th amongst 30 teams in three-point percentage in a perimeter shooting league. Plus, there’s that whole problem surrounding Lonzo’s over-thetop father Lavar. He’s coming home from Lithuania soon and he could say something that would force Lebron away. But Lebron would love all the young talent this team has. Lonzo Ball would be a great third-best player on a playoff team, while Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma can carry the scoring around Lebron. And the best player on the biggest franchise is always an intriguing fit. But until the Lakers can assure Lebron that they can bring in another star, there are too many question marks to say that LA stands a great chance at landing the superstar.
The third option for Lebron is the Philadelphia 76ers. If he wants to stay in the weaker of the two conferences, Philadelphia is the place to be. If he doesn’t want to keep losing in the NBA finals, this is not a great destination. My biggest worry is how well ball-dominant Ben Simmons can work with Lebron. The two have very similar games and Simmons will likely need to give up many of his touches if the 76ers can work in this scenario. Joel Embiid is another great talent but he has been injured so often that at times the team wouldn’t even let him play on consecutive days. But in terms of talent, a Big 3 of Lebron, Simmons and Embiid is downright scary and it would also be one of the most physically imposing starting lineups we’ve ever seen. If Markelle Fultz didn’t forget how to shoot a basketball, this team would be an Eastern Conference title contender already. So Lebron going to Philly is fairly likely but there is one better option.
Las Vegas has the Houston Rockets as favourites to land Lebron and a Big 3 of him, Chris Paul and James Harden would only be contested by the Warriors. Lebron has said in the past he would like to play with Paul and Houston is a big enough market for his brand. Plus, he’ll get to play alongside a likely MVP in Harden. However, adding a max-contract player would force the Rockets to decimate the bench and add multiple players on league-minimum deals. And they’d still need to sign Paul. It would also be interesting to see if Harden would be willing to give up many touches, as he has every reason to believe he’s the best player in the NBA. He isn’t known to be particularly selfish, though, so I believe this could work. If the Rockets can clear up the cap space, this could be the next great dynasty.
But who knows, Maybe he’ll just go to the Warriors after all.
– Connor Toffan, Sports Co-Editor