- The Lakers made the biggest splash of free agency in signing LeBron James but they have dropped the ball in building a contender around him. So why should he sit back and wait?
All right, so what we’re about to do here is purely the kind of thought experiment that made perfect sense for a fleeting moment after your brain had been lost in the free-agency sauce for 48 hours and all you can think about is seeing your family again. It’s been a crazy couple days in the NBA, starting with LeBron James agreeing to a contract with the Lakers, followed up by the Warriors essentially replacing JaVale McGee with four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins. This is all rather insane.
Now, there was something of a Boogie freakout in some corners of the internet after his signing was announced. Some people have since responded to the initial shock with more reasoned questions about how someone recovering from a torn Achilles can really raise the ceiling of a team that was probably going to win the title anyway. That’s not what we’re about to do here.
So let’s assume for a minute the Warriors get like 85% of Cousins by Christmas Day. That’s a giant improvement on any center they’ve had over the last four years. Assuming Boogie keeps his ego in check—and the Warriors’ culture seems to do a good job of that—the margin of error for this team went from small to infinitesimal.
What does all this mean for LeBron, though? Uh, as the headline of this blog would suggest, maybe he should consider getting the hell out of Dodge while he still has the chance. Let’s make the case for why LeBron should back out of his contract with the Lakers, DeAndre Jordan style.
Don’t Waste a Year
LeBron James will turn 34 later this year. It sounds preposterous to say, but at some point this man will show his age. During his last postseason run, James still seemed to be at the height of his powers. So why should he sit back and concede this upcoming title to the Warriors? The Lakers already looked to be well behind Golden State, even before they signed Boogie. Los Angeles quickly went from a blank canvas capable of constructing a superteam to LeBron and a batch of his most memorable villains. James didn’t sign up for the Suicide Squad. Seriously, Magic Johnson is going to roll James out with Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo and Javale McGee? You know what the scariest part of that trio is? That McGee is probably the smartest signing out of the bunch.
Look, I know L.A. is being smart bringing in guys on one-year deals and keeping the books open next summer for Kawhi Leonard and perhaps another impact player. But what will LeBron’s game look like then? Once James starts to slip, the calculus for L.A. to build a title team could change dramatically. The painstaking photoshops of James flanked by Paul George and Kawhi really seemed possible this summer. Now, Leonard may be in a holding pattern while George is locked up in OKC. Dreams of an L.A. superteam have turned into the reality that maybe, just maybe, LeBron’s skills as a recruiter are slipping.
Ultimately, the clock is ticking on LeBron. As long the Warriors keep their core together, he will need to be surrounded by top-tier talent. If this was four years ago, I wouldn’t mind the Lakers’ strategy. But just because you secured a long-term commitment from James, it doesn’t mean you can afford to wait to put together a true title team.
Are There Better Options?
Okay, so we’ve hopefully established that L.A. seems to be punting to a degree on a championship this year. Is there a better place for LeBron to play for a year? Yes, possibly even multiple options. The most obvious one is the Sixers. Sure, Philly may have to nix its own deal with J.J. Redick to bring in James, but the Eastern Conference is looking like the best place to be right now.
When James got to the Lakers, I thought he’d be playing with two more max stars, not a who’s who of veteran castoffs. With the Sixers, he can team up with two budding superstars, and they still have the pieces to trade for Kawhi themselves. I still don’t know if Philly is the best move long-term for James and his myriad interests, but if he’s looking to win a title next year, maybe he signs with the 76ers for one year, convinces Kawhi to join him for one epic ride, and then they both ride toward an L.A. sunset together next summer. A Simmons-Embiid-James-Leonard core would almost be guaranteed a trip to the title round in the East, and has a better chance against the Warriors than LeBron and a bunch of 30% three-point shooters.
What About the Backlash?
Well, a lot of people would certainly hate LeBron for doing this. But you know what? James is no stranger to drama. The Warriors have changed the rules. After all, LeBron hasn’t signed any contracts. He hasn’t thrown any lavish parties. He is perfectly within his rights to change his mind. And maybe it’s time for James to get a little bit of the villain streak back in his life anyway. Maybe LeBron is getting too comfortable with all the love he received during the playoffs. Aren’t people always telling you to get out of your comfort zone? Backlash is nothing new to James, and making the switch would add another incredible 15 minutes to the inevitable documentary about his career.
Do I Believe Any of This?
No, not really. I’m the guy who said the Lakers always made the most sense for LeBron. Do I still believe that? Maybe less than I did when James initially made the announcement. In all seriousness, Los Angeles has somewhat dropped the ball on building a great team around James. But Kawhi is still out there, and next summer will have a bigger pool of high-impact free agents to pick from. Even if L.A. already had Leonard and Boogie was shot into space, the Warriors would have been title favorites this year. The Lakers’ apparent strategy of targeting next summer as the time to make huge splashes has its merits, even if it seems risky to put a soon-to-be 34-year-old LeBron James in a holding pattern for a year. But if there were ever anyone worth betting on, it’s LeBron.