With the NBA finals now in the rear view mirror, LeBron James’ impending free agency takes center stage on the NBA calendar. James has been linked to a long list of teams including the Lakers, Rockets, Celtics and Sixers. James has publicly said very little on his future plans. James spoke on a rare occasion in April about his criteria.
“My family. That’s all that matters,” James told Cleveland.com. “I want to continue to win at the highest level, because I know I can still do it as an individual, and then my family. My family is what’s most important to me, more than anything.”
Internet detectives have taken that to mean James has ruled out a return to Cleveland thanks to his less-than-ideal relationship with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. It could just as easily mean James remains in Cleveland given his family ties to Akron. Only James knows for sure what his closing act will be. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported James will not give the Cavs his plans before the draft.
“We know that he’s not going to give the Cavs much, if any, direction at all going into the draft or free agency about moves he’d potentially like… They’ll draft blind on draft night,” Wojnarowski said on ESPN.
James will decide if his business ventures away from basketball will take center stage, or if winning a couple more championships is the top priority.
Here is a look at the top teams that have a chance at signing James.
LeBron to the Rockets
James would finally get to play with one of his best friends, Chris Paul. A trio of James, Paul and James Harden could give the Warriors a run. Former teammate Chris Bosh has his money on the Rockets being James’ next destination.
“I would guess that he goes to Houston,” Bosh said on Fox Sports (via USA Today). “It’s like the next Avengers movie. Golden State with like 100 superheroes and then Houston with 100 superheroes and they fight. That’s just what it’s coming down to…The star power of the league, what’s happening now is that the stars are figuring out their power. He’ll be the biggest free agent ever in history because of how many times he hit it. With the dynamic that Houston has, you can argue that they could have taken Golden State down this year.”
The Rockets are not projected to have enough cap space to sign James. Houston either needs to trade away some of their current salaries, or orchestrate a sign-and-trade with the Cavs.
LeBron to the Lakers
The Los Angeles rumors date back to last summer when they really started to heat up. James did not help matters by recently purchasing his second Los Angeles home, fueling more rumors that he has his eyes on the Lakers. It appears James family enjoys being in Los Angeles, and James entertainment ambitions would be well-served in L.A. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported the Lakers are a perfect intersection of all of James’ interests.
Several possible factors in LeBron’s decision-making process have been raised by league sources: a place to raise his family; a place where he will have the best shot at winning more championships; a place where he can begin setting up his post-playing career and dip into the world of entertainment and team ownership. The Lakers, more than any other team in the league, sit at the nexus of all the reasons LeBron would want to join a franchise.
The Lakers don’t have the most talented roster, but there is enough there for James to work with. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are talented young players. Los Angeles is also the only team with the cap space to give them a real chance of signing James along with another max free agent.
LeBron to the Sixers
James has been outspoken about his love for Ben Simmons, who shares a Klutch Sports connection with King James. From a pure basketball perspective, the Sixers may give James the best chance to win both short and long-term. A trio of Simmons, James and Joel Embiid would be competitive with any team in the league. Philadelphia also has a strong cast of role players that can surround James. When Sixers fans put up billboards trying to entice him to play in Philadelphia, James expressed flattery rather than shooting down the effort.
“You can say it’s a distraction — it’s not. Not a distraction,” James told ESPN. “It is actually very flattering that I’m sitting here at 33 and in my 15th year and teams or guys — I don’t want to say teams because that becomes tampering. But people in their respective city want me to play for them. That’s cool I think. That’s dope.”
There was also this exchange between James and Simmons on Instagram.
LeBron to the Celtics
How is this possible? The Rockets found a loophole last year when Paul opted in before a trade, and James could use the same loophole to force his way to Boston. The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks explained the logistics of how James to the Celtics could work.
LeBron would need to take the same path to Boston that Chris Paul took to Houston. He could opt into the final year of his contract at $35.6 million, and the Celtics could trade for him with a package based around either Hayward or Irving. Since both teams are over the salary cap, the first step would be matching salaries, which would be easier with Hayward (who will make $31.2 million next season) than Kyrie ($20.1 million). The Cavs might prefer to acquire Hayward, who they once chased in free agency, over Kyrie considering all the prior history between the two parties. Hayward is also under contract for two more seasons, while Kyrie could be free next offseason.
Some combination of Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James would be lethal. As an added bonus, the Celtics play in the East, and are already the favorites to reach the NBA finals next season. One potential hitch, could James and Irving patch things up after Irving forced his way out of Cleveland?