One of the biggest storylines looming over the NBA season is the impending free agency of LeBron James. The speculation about where James will play in 2018-19 will be a discussion point across the sports media.
As part of an NBA media roundtable this week with seven influential voices, I asked the group where they expect James to end up next season.
• Howard Beck, NBA writer, Bleacher Report
• Candace Buckner, Wizards reporter, Washington Post
• Tania Ganguli, Lakers reporter, L.A. Times
• Adam Himmelsbach, Celtics reporter, Boston Globe
• Frank Isola, NBA columnist, New York Daily News, SiriusXM NBA Radio host, Around The Horn panelist.
• Michael Lee, senior NBA writer, Yahoo! Sports
• Marcus Thompson, columnist, The Athletic Bay Area
What team will LeBron be on next year and why?
Beck: I don’t know, and no one else does either. I do believe, based on people I’ve spoken with in the last six months, that there’s a reasonable chance he leaves Cleveland again. I’ve had team executives swear—as long ago as May—that LeBron’s departure was a near certainty. The general belief around the league is that, if he does leave, he’ll land with the Lakers. How much of that is belief/speculation vs. inside knowledge is hard to say. It’s a gossipy league. Sometimes the gossip is accurate (hello, Paul George) and sometimes not. LeBron is a complex guy. I’m not about to predict his next move.
Buckner: Los Angeles Lakers. Because DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George will be there, too.
Ganguli: It could be the one I cover. But in order for LeBron to come to the Lakers, he has to believe in the organization and the coaching staff. And he has to know another star will come with him. With another Rich Paul client (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) on the Lakers roster, he'll have a good amount of information about how things are inside the building.
Himmelsbach: Have you ever played that board game Scattergories where you have to give your answer but if it’s the same answer everyone else gives, it doesn’t count? That’s sort of what this feels like. So I’m not going to say Lakers but I’ll be mad if no one else says Lakers. I’ll say he goes back to Cleveland, but if he does, I think the Nets’ first-round pick the Cavs received in the Irving trade will play a role somehow.
Isola: I think it's going to be the Lakers but he should stay in Cleveland. They'll still be the best team in the East and should reach the NBA Finals. Why go to the same division and conference as the best team?
Lee: I’ll say Cleveland. I know everybody assumes that he’s going to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers and start preparing himself for life after basketball by focusing on his business interests in television and film. Some have already called it a foregone conclusion but I still think a lot has to fall in place for that to happen. Russell Westbrook signing his extension with Oklahoma City could influence Paul George to stay with the Thunder, especially if they realize that they enjoy playing together and advance to the conference finals or beyond. Would DeMarcus Cousins going to LA as a free agent be enough for LeBron to go? I don’t know.
But I just think LeBron has it too good in Cleveland. The organization has appeased him ever since his first stint with the franchise. New general manager Koby Altman pulled off such a great deal for Kyrie Irving that LeBron might want to stick around to see what kind of team the Cavaliers plans to build. And, why would he leave the East when so many teams have tapped out and will be bad for a long while. I’ve been wrong about LeBron before. I thought he’d stay in Cleveland before The Decision. I thought he’d stay in Miami before he decided to be the Homecoming King. Now that I think about it…it’s the Lakers.
Thompson: Lakers. He’s gotta come West at some point, right?