Stein looks into his crystal ball regarding LeBron's future

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Even though the heat and intensity of the playoffs is already being felt, LeBron James' future remains fodder for many across the NBA landscape.

That includes NBA insider Marc Stein of the New York Times, who like many in the national media, believes James will be a goner from the Cleveland Cavaliers if he does as expected and declines the $35.6 million player option to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

"With the free-agent-to-be Mr. James still two defeats away from the maiden first-round exit of his career, and presumably still capable of dragging the worst team he’s played on for roughly a decade to the NBA Finals, I'm nonetheless aligning myself with the camp that says LeBron is gone this summer," Stein writes in his weekly newsletter.

"I will continue to trumpet the belief that James would be making a huge mistake to leave the Eastern Conference that he has dominated for years by joining the Houston Rockets or Los Angeles Lakers and potentially complicating his annual path to the championship round.

“But the Cavaliers suddenly look so rickety again that I now fully understand why whispers about the Philadelphia 76ers and their growing behind-the-scenes confidence that they can woo LeBron to Philly this summer are getting louder."

Stein doesn't see LeBron adding to his three NBA championship rings in Cleveland going forward.

"If title contention is what matters to King James — and my sense is that nothing except family considerations matters more to LeBron than playing somewhere he will be in immediate and constant contention for rings — Cleveland is no longer the place," Stein writes. "The Cavaliers just don't have the look of a reliable contender with that porous defense and limited supporting cast, nor do they have the financial flexibility to make the moves needed to get better-fitting pieces around James to get back to that level."

Leaving for greener pastures will be much simpler than trying to discern how the Cavaliers can seriously improve their current roster come summertime, according to Stein.

"It's simply going to be easier for LeBron to move elsewhere than wait for the Cavs to reload this roster with sufficient help — barring some miraculous trade that can be constructed around the lottery pick via Brooklyn that they hold in the June 21 draft," Stein said.

"Maybe Cleveland can still get hot in these playoffs and find a way back to LeBron’s eighth straight Finals, because the competition in the East continues to be so forgiving. But it's getting ridiculous how much this franchise is asking James to do on a nightly basis, at age 33, just to win first-round playoff games."