- Where will LeBron James land next season? The Crossover breaks down all of his best options.
Note: Earlier this week Sports Illustrated's NBA staff was asked to predict where LeBron James will land in NBA Free Agency this summer. I refused to make a prediction, and the entry I submitted was deemed too long to include in the original roundtable. Instead, that entry appears below.
Let's discuss the possibilities this summer.
[puts on tinfoil RWTW hat]
[logs onto FlightAware.com to monitor all private aviation inbound to Akron, Ohio for the next 21 days]
[Prays to this this Post-Decision Vitamin Water shrine]
We know that LeBron cares about narrative and cultivating his own mystique. In that case, nothing he does next month would be more dramatic than staying in Cleveland. Of course, we also know that LeBron resents the Warriors and everything they stand for, and he was just swept for the first time in more than a decade. To beat Golden State, he'll probably have to go elsewhere.
So, Houston? Houston would give him the best chance to make the Warriors pay attention next season. But Houston doesn't give him an opportunity to cultivate mystique. It sort of feels like this would be the Joe Montana on the Chiefs portion of his career, and on the court, the Warriors are still the favorites in that scenario. If anything, joining the Rockets looks like a sadder, more desperate version of what Durant did two summers ago. And aside from the narrative aspects of this, if LeBron goes to the Rockets, his title window lasts only as long as Chris Paul's time as an elite point guard. That gives him, what? Two more years before he has to move again? LeBron can do better.
So what about the Sixers? Philly would be, without question, the most entertaining move on the board. Just consider those first few days after the signing. If LeBron goes to the Rockets or Lakers, the reaction will be: "Wow that's crazy... Is it enough to beat the Warriors?" If LeBron goes to the Sixers, the world spends the next few days incapable of rational discourse. Warriors solution or not, it becomes a very real "holy s***" moment for everyone -- because of where the Sixers have been, because of what a risk it would be for LeBron, and because even now, the idea of LeBron and Embiid closing games together is kind of too strange to be real.
The Sixers enter this conversation with all kinds of downsides and maybe the highest upside. There's a possibility LeBron could sign in Philadelphia along with Paul George, or maybe the Sixers swing a Kawhi Leonard trade at some point in the next week. As a bonus in this scenario, he'd still be in the East and well-positioned to beat the torture the Raptors and Celtics well into the future. But then, there's still "too strange" side of this: do we really envision the second best player of all time spending the twilight of his career living in South Jersey, watching Ben Simmons refuse to shoot, and making cameos in Joel Embiid Instagram stories? I don't know. Embiid's health is a concern, Markelle Fultz has nebulous value and on the court and in trades, the fit with Ben Simmons would be an adventure, and we currently have no idea who's running this team. (Note: All the reasons this wouldn't work are also reasons it would be amazing to watch LeBron try it.).
L.A. checks the most boxes for LeBron. That's always been true. The Lakers keep him at the center of the league, he'd be given freedom on the court in Luke Walton's offense, and he'd likely have a good amount of power in the front office. With a combination of young assets, cap space, and invisible forces drawing players to Southern California, Magic Johnson will be well-positioned to recruit help both this summer and beyond. It makes sense of number of levels. But again, LeBron likes to create drama. His free agency choices have always been part of that story. Choosing L.A. might be the most rational move, but it's also the most predictable. So maybe there's room for a curveball?
He could sign in San Antonio. This would be the easiest move to sell to anyone who's skeptical about him leaving Cleveland again. This is the move of a basketball purist. This is Bruce Wayne forsaking all of his possessions to go live with Ra's Al Ghul. They'd probably have to trade Lamarcus Aldridge, and Kawhi Leonard would have to be healthy, but it could be nearly as dangerous as anything else on the board. The Spurs would allow LeBron to continue playing the superhero ball that he's perfected over the past year in Cleveland, except that instead of Kevin Love he'd have Kawhi, and instead of Cleveland's shaky supporting cast, he'd be surrounded by elite defenders who will make shots. Doesn't that sound like a decent Warriors solution? After months of wondering whether business ties to Ben Simmons would lure LeBron to Philly, what if we were focused on the wrong Klutch Sports client?
And the Wizards. What I love most about LeBron to DC speculation is how many people close to LeBron would be genuinely concerned for his emotional stability if he thought the Wizards were the best idea. But listen, nothing is impossible. Maybe he decides to spend the next few years harrassing Trump? But hey ... Maybe he decides to spend the next few years harrassing Trump? Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are perfect pieces to play around LeBron. John Wall would be a mediocre fit at best, but he is a Klutch Sports client, so that helps. Kelly Oubre would be great in team instagrams. Every Finals LeBron makes with Ian Manhinmi would count at least as much as one of the Heat titles. This could work. Imagine LeBron announces that the next phase of his career is bigger than his basketball, and as a show of his commitment to fighting for change, he takes a veteran's minimum to play in Washington. Rings culture is already looking obsolete in the KD Warriors era, but this move could put the nail in the coffin. Did Golden State win a single championship if LeBron successfully unseats a sitting president?
He can't go to the Celtics. I'm sorry. There's too much mutual disdain after the past ten years, and from a basketball standpoint, Boston is one of the two teams in the NBA (along with the Warriors) so well-positioned for the next decade that signing LeBron might actually be counterproductive. After executing this rebuild for the past five years, we really think Danny Ainge is going to cash-in his chips and clear space for a two or three year run through LeBron's twilight? And that's before you consider Kyrie.
Portland could work if you don't care about the salary cap (I don't) and you believe in the shadowy powers of shoe companies (I do). Likewise, if you're willing to suspend disbelief regarding salaries, the Pelicans can put together the most compelling roster around LeBron and also offer us the chance at an incredibly weird, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Smoothie King Center phase of LeBron's career. I've heard people argue that LeBron should take a year off next season and then return to reevaluate his options in 2019. I've heard others argue he should use this summer to leverage his way into a future ownership stake. And at the end of this, there are still the Cavs, a team that allowed him to play the past year like a superhero, leaving him looking more dominant and more popular than he's been his entire career.
Honestly, I have no idea. I'm not going to let my editors corner me into a prediction here. What's most important is to appreciate the journey, and the opportunity to get weird and paranoid together as a nation of basketball fans.
[wraps entire body in tinfoil]
[researches the location of every Blaze Pizza franchise opened within the last 12 months]
[hacks into the enrollment records of private high schools in Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia]
[watches the "What Should I Do?" commercial that Nike tried to scrub from the internet]
It's going to be a great month.