Unsurprisingly to most sports fans, the NBA offseason’s most coveted prize opted out of the final year of his contract with the Cleveland Caviliers on Friday and is officially a free agent for the third time in his remarkable career.
LeBron James is a member of no team in particular at the moment, but this does not necessarily mean he will not return to his hometown Cavs. Although, I would be shocked beyond all belief if he did so.
LeBron stated that his ultimate goal was to bring a championship to the city of Cleveland when he returned in the summer of 2014. The city was deprived of just about any sort of athletic success before the youngster officially came onto the scene in 2003. Even after, the coveted title seemed to elude James, the Cavs and the entire city of Cleveland for quite some time.
That city still had no rings after 1964 when the King “took his talents to South Beach” and joined Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat along with Chris Bosch. He would find success here, reaching the Finals in four straight seasons and winning two, but Cleveland developed a nasty grudge against their former savior as they were left by the wayside.
After the way he left the first time, James probably felt he had a duty to return home and bring multiple titles to the fans who knew his name when he was 14. Of course, it did not work out that way. Instead, the Golden State Warriors happened and the Cavs were pushed to the limit to win one championship in 2016 after falling behind three games to one.
For arguments sake, it is interesting to ask if James would feel pressured to remain in Cleveland had the Cavs lost four straight Finals to Golden State. After all, he did promise to deliver a championship.
But there is not any reason to dwell on what might have been. James did deliver that long anticipated ring and posted ridiculous numbers for the Cavs in every season he was a member. They could not compete with Golden State in most years because the roster was simply worse and Cleveland could never seem to keep all of their guys healthy at the right time. At the end, they lost Kyrie Irving and it all went up in flames. Sure, LeBron was enough to get them through a weaker Eastern Conference again, but they never had a shot against the Warriors and probably would not have had much of a chance against the Houston Rockets had they advanced.
All accounts seem to suggest LeBron will wear a new uniform next season. He might also join the Western Conference for the first time in his career and the Los Angeles Lakers is starting to look more and more like the place.
The Lakers would probably have to add either Paul George, Kawhi Leonard or both if they hope to land James. This would likely mean parting ways with a promising young guard in Lonzo Ball, who LA selected number two overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. This would leave a noticeable gap at guard, but I also cannot see a scenario where James and Ball’s father LaVar coexist in the same organization. Make no mistake about it, while he might not have any decision making power, the boisterous LaVar Ball is part of any organization that includes his son. Have you ever heard of the impossible scenario of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object? That comes to mind when I ponder LeBron James and LaVar Ball in the same vicinity.
This will also open up a very interesting scenario in the Eastern Conference, which LeBron has dominated for the better part of 15 seasons. The real winner of LeBron heading west would be the Boston Celtics, who are starting to look like the most complete team in the east after an impressive shorthanded push to the Conference Finals last month.
The west would become even more loaded than they are now and we could see LeBron take on the Warriors a round earlier than usual. This could eventually lead to the renewal of one of the game’s most historic rivalries: the Lakers and the Celtics. Only this time, LeBron James would be part of the equation.
Whatever happens, we may know LeBron’s destination sooner than anticipated and the 2018-19 season will look a whole lot different.