James is coming off an NBA Finals loss which, let’s face it, no one really cares about that much. Essentially, LeBron played what Fortnite gamers call ‘Solo Squads’, and the Warriors had a bit too overpowering of a squad. LeBron James, despite being 3-6 in the NBA Finals, is still the Greatest Player of All-Time, and he will most likely be a free agent. LeBron is going to be the talk of the summer once again, as he is approaching ‘The Decision 3.0’ in this year’s free agency. Here is my stance on where he lies as the GOAT, and where he could go in free agency this summer:
LeBron’s GOAT Status
LeBron James is really the only person besides Michael Jordan who is in the GOAT conversation, and deservedly so. Why wouldn’t the most complete NBA player to ever play the game not be in the GOAT conversation? Now, that being said, many critics are rather dogmatic and harsh in their judgement of LeBron James, but there are many things those people are missing out. First off, Michael Jordan is 1-9 in all playoff series when he did not have another superstar on his team. LeBron James has been to 2 NBA Finals with no superstars (2007 and this year, and no, Kevin Love is not a superstar). Second, Michael Jordan is 6-0 in Finals, yet he always had the NBA’s best team. LeBron, however, has only been the favorite in 2 Finals (2011 vs. Dallas Mavericks, and 2013 vs. San Antonio Spurs, according to FiveThirtyEight. He went 1-1 in those Finals). So, to say that Jordan is better because he is 6-0 is a bad argument to make, because LeBron has rarely been the favorite. On top of that, Jordan has been swept out of the playoffs twice, and unlike LeBron, has lost in the first round of the playoffs, so saying that LeBron has ‘easier competition’ is also a faulty statement. Third, LeBron is the much more complete player, as he isn’t simply ‘just a scorer’, or ‘just a perimeter defender’ as Michael Jordan was. LeBron can do much more to rebound, pass, play inside on both ends, and guard and play all positions on either side of the ball. Lastly, LeBron has never had the amount of talent that Jordan has had, as Jordan could afford to take a 2-year ‘retirement’ and still see his Chicago Bulls make the playoffs both years. Only LeBron’s Miami Heat teams could’ve made the playoffs without him. Sure, they both had superteams, but Jordan always had the more deep and dependable superteams as opposed to LeBron. All in all, the arguments for LeBron as the GOAT trump that of Jordan, and show that his ability to often just take terribly assembled teams to the Finals is remarkable, and the fact that Jordan always had a well assembled team to work with speaks volumes to the differences in their Finals records, yet also their individual talents and efforts. The only thing that could really take LeBron out of the GOAT conversation is if he were to go to the Golden State Warriors in free agency, which, considering the current Warriors position, they may have to trade all their superstars except for KD and maybe Steph Curry to get him, and even then, they will be guaranteed many Finals victories due to the presence of LeBron.
LeBron’s Free Agency Options
LeBron James has a lot of leverage as far as where he can go once he opts out, due to the how much money he can get per year, and the sign-and-trade ability that he possesses, as exemplified by the way Chris Paul used it last season to get to the Houston Rockets. The teams that are in the running for LeBron are: LA Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and Golden State Warriors. Here is how I see each team in terms of those most likely to get him, sleeper teams, the best fit for LeBron, and who LeBron will eventually go play for:
The Teams Most Likely To Land LeBron
Los Angeles Lakers
Now, this seems to be the favorite to land LeBron by seemingly everyone, not just the Vegas odds-makers, or the fact that LeBron has two homes in LA. However, the Lakers need to do a few things to convince LeBron first. They must trade their big cap-space clingers, like Luol Deng and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, so that LeBron can have the ability to tell Magic Johnson how he wants the roster to be tinkered. The last thing he would want is to run into a situation that he did in the 2010-11 season, when the ‘Big 3’ had really no one else on the team, which resulted in their shock NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks in 6 games. LeBron wants to be able to get the roster up-and-running immediately, which he has improved upon doing since that season. LeBron also will want Paul George. The Lakers are the only team in the NBA that has enough cap for TWO max-contract players, and Paul George can be the second guy. While many say George is a lock to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for his hometown of SoCal, George has talked many times about the fact that he may want to stay in OKC, citing that playing with Russell Westbrook has made him a better player and person. Even if PG stays with OKC, Kawhi Leonard, the superstar Small Forward of the San Antonio Spurs, has asked for a trade to the Lakers, and will be granted the trade soon. The trade will probably end up being Brandon Ingram and Luol Deng for Kawhi. Now, assuming that PG’s heart is set on going back home, LeBron to LA would be a virtual guarantee. LeBron, along with PG, and Kawhi, and the young pieces that LA already has, they will bring themselves back to NBA Finals contenders, as it would put them on a level to beat the Golden State Warriors, and win the Finals many times over.
Philadelphia is enticing to LeBron James because of the heights that they reached this season. They went to the Eastern Conference Semifinals with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons leading the way. With LeBron’s presence, he can elevate the level of play from Embiid and Simmons, along with other role players like JJ Redick, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric, and make this team NBA Finals contenders. This roster already has pieces that LeBron would love to play with, as it has a scoring and shot-blocking center (Embiid), a creator (Simmons), and many spot-up shooters (Redick, Covington, Saric). LeBron probably fits best with the Sixers compared to any of his other suitors. The only piece LeBron may look to trade or replace is Markelle Fultz. The 76ers also have the 10th pick in the NBA Draft which is a week from today. Don’t be surprised if LeBron has Philly take a guy like Mikal Bridges or Colin Sexton, scorers who can either start or come off the bench. LeBron can easily take this team to the Finals, and they could knock off Golden State.
San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard wants to be traded to the Lakers, so no chance LeBron goes there.
Roster-wise, why wouldn’t LeBron want to go here? James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela are three of the best players at their positions, and the Rockets role players are some of the best in the business. So, why can’t LeBron just go there? Cap space. Houston backup Power Forward Ryan Anderson was signed in 2016 to a 4-year, $80 million contract in 2016, and if he isn’t traded, the Rockets should say goodbye to their chances at getting LeBron. LeBron would probably have to do a sign-and-trade deal like Chris Paul did, but it all comes down to whether or not the Cavs, or possibly any other team, would want Anderson. If Anderson is traded before LeBron makes ‘The Decision’, LeBron could go there and not have to go through the mess of a sign-and-trade deal, but considering Anderson is 30 years old, and really not bringing value to many teams anymore, the Rockets window to get LeBron is closing faster than ever.
I’m convinced that Celtics GM Danny Ainge wants to trade Gordon Hayward for LeBron in a sign-and-trade, but would Cleveland be willing to get ‘just Hayward’ for him? It seems as though Ainge will not want to trade Kyrie Irving and instead convince him to stay in 2019, when he can make $80 million more than what he would make this year if he extends his contract, which he declined to do. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert wants to build a ‘championship roster’ without LeBron, so he may get greedy in the sign-and-trade, even if he does get Hayward. Plus, Kyrie ran away from Cleveland and their management to lead a team, so he may not want LeBron to come to Boston. I would, however, give Boston a higher chance to get LeBron than Houston.
LeBron does not want to stay with this embarrassment of an organization. Unless he gets 1-2 superstars, such as Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins through sign-and-trade deals. I doubt that even then, LeBron would be convinced to stay, though, especially after how he took this terrible team to the Finals. Yes, this would make them miles better, but would they beat Golden State? Still not very likely.
LeBron could get a reunion back with the Heat and his BFF Dwyane Wade, but it would take a trade. Center Hassan Whiteside, and possibly Small Forward Justise Winslow, would have to be traded for Cousins, Kawhi, or Demar Derozan, which all seem unlikely, but Heat Team President Pat Riley, who may be the best in the business, could make it work. The Heat have great pieces, like Philly and Boston do, to be NBA Finals contenders if LeBron goes there. They could be the sleeper team in the LeBron sweepstakes for sure.
Golden State Warriors
No. Just no. Kevin Durant said no. GM Bob Myers wants Anthony Davis from the Pelicans instead. They don’t need LeBron, and they would have to trade too much to get LeBron, so why would they even bother? Also, why would LeBron want to ruin his legacy by going to a team that doesn’t need him to earn their rings? So, the answer is no.
Where Will LeBron Ultimately Go?
LeBron to LA will become a reality. With PG, Kawhi, and young stars like Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, how can LeBron turn down the opportunity to play with this team. The roster also is very flexible, meaning that LeBron can make many trades to better the roster, and give himself valuable bench players. He had the luxury of doing this with the Miami Heat by getting himself Birdman (Chris Andersen), Ray Allen, Mike Miller, and Shane Battier. In Cleveland, he got himself Kevin Love, JR Smith, and Kyle Korver. Expect LeBron to get more role players like this. The Lakers also have the 25th pick which they could utilize in a trade to get a role player of LeBron’s liking, if he wishes to have the Lakers trade it. On top of the basketball reasons, if the whole ‘family could determine his decision’ rumor is indeed true, then LeBron to LA makes sense, especially since LeBron wants to get more well-known in Hollywood, so, why not LA?