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NBA Free Agency: Where Will LeBron James Play Next Season?

Where Will LeBron James Play Next Season?

Every four years there is a sporting event so momentous that it becomes a topic of conversation many months ahead of it. And in the two to three weeks prior to this occasion, the hysteria is incredible. It absolutely dominates the consciousness of the sporting world. It is almost literally all you will see or hear on ESPN, sports talk radio, podcasts, and even your nightly news.

No, this is not the Olympics (Summer or Winter) or the World Cup.

In 2010 and 2014, LeBron James made “Decisions” that drastically altered the landscape of the NBA, professional sports in general, the cities of Cleveland and Miami, and his legacy as a professional athlete, an important one since, without bias, he is one of the five most important athletes ever, and certainly the most important athlete of the 21st Century.

For those who haven’t checked a calendar recently, it is indeed 2018 — four years after LeBron’s last Free Agency choice — and it’s late June, which means Free Agency is right around the corner, and it’s soon time for yet another LeBron James decision.

The layout of the league is much different than it was the previous two times LeBron James entered Free Agency. At this point, LeBron’s legacy is cemented. Each of the previous two times there was a belief that work still needed to be done on that front. This time around, LeBron is dealing with the challenge of finding a way to topple a borderline unbeatable Super Team. Each of the previous two times, the notion was that no matter where LeBron went, that would be the Super Team in the league. This time, that’s not necessarily the case thanks to the two-time defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors.

With that said, after a season’s worth of speculation it seems as if the list of choices for LeBron James has narrowed to only four teams. Of course, Las Vegas has odds on more than just four teams:

Los Angeles Lakers – 1/4

Cleveland Cavaliers – 10/4

Houston Rockets – 8/1

Philadelphia 76ers – 12/1

San Antonio Spurs – 20/1

Boston Celtics – 20/1

Los Angeles Clippers – 25/1

New York Knicks – 35/1

Miami Heat – 50/1

Does Not Play A Regular Season Game – 75/1

Golden State Warriors – 100/1

Washington Wizards – 100/1

With apologies to some of the long-shots on the board, only the top four choices feel like real possibilities for LeBron James.

Houston Rockets 

Figuring out where LeBron James may be going in Free Agency requires that you moonlight as a private investigator. Sifting through all of the rumors can be a chore, but if you’re like me — far too invested and you have a ton of time on your hands — it’s actually a fun exercise in detective work.

There are plenty of mixed signals regarding LeBron James’ interest in the Houston Rockets. Over the past two weeks we’ve heard that Chris Paul has been actively recruiting his good friend, that LeBron James dislikes the city of Houston, and that despite that disinterest in the city itself, LeBron was recently in Houston checking out private schools for his children to attend.

From a basketball perspective, the move makes sense for LeBron. Houston had Golden State on the ropes in the Western Conference Finals, and if it weren’t for an unfortunate Chris Paul injury at the end of Game 5, the Rockets may have went on to win the Western Conference and NBA Finals too. If LeBron is still chasing the ghost who played in Chicago, the case could be made that Houston gives LeBron his best chance to accumulate the rings to eventually catch Michael Jordan’s six.

A move to Houston would require some chicanery. LeBron would need to pick up his option for next season and a sign-and-trade would need to be worked out in order for LeBron to receive max money and end up a Rocket. Crazier things have been done, and if any player has the power to move the necessary chess pieces around to make a move like this, it’s LeBron James.

Cleveland Cavaliers

On a recent edition of The Lowe Post Podcast, LeBron insider Brian Windhorst suggested that what the Vegas odds say are true: aside from the Lakers, the Cavaliers have the best chance of signing LeBron James this Summer. LeBron has stated that he wanted to end his career with the Cavaliers and his love for nearby Akron is well-documented. It’s entirely possible that LeBron looks at all of the other options and decides that no other team gives him a significantly better chance of winning a title than the Cavaliers do.

Personally, I think that’s an incorrect evaluation of the other options that LeBron has. Depending on what other signings/trades the Lakers can make, I think a case could be made that Los Angeles, Houston, and Philadelphia all give LeBron a better chance to win a title next year than the Cavaliers do. Outside the box moves like Boston, San Antonio and (gulp) Golden State obviously do too.

The Cavaliers likely don’t have the assets to improve their roster in a meaningful way. Kevin Love and future picks can be packaged in any deals, but would what Cleveland gets back in any hypothetical trade like that actually move the needle? It doesn’t seem like it.

Factor in LeBron’s feelings for Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, and I think it’s unlikely that LeBron chooses to remain in Cleveland.

Los Angeles Lakers

It makes perfect sense why the Lakers are the favorites to land LeBron James this Summer. The Lakers are arguably the most prestigious franchise in the NBA, and Los Angeles is the perfect city for any athlete who has aspirations larger than sports. LeBron fits that description to a T.

In addition, the Lakers also have the assets and cap space to build yet another Super Team around LeBron James. Paul George has been long-rumored to end up a Laker, and Kawhi Leonard reportedly aspires to be a Laker too. Just recently it’s been suggested that because of some differences between Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets, the Lakers could be in play for Paul six years after a trade for Chris Paul was vetoed by then-Commissioner David Stern. If the Lakers can bring in some combination of Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul, it’s basically a lock that LeBron will end up there too.

But even if the Lakers are unable to trade for Kawhi Leonard, and if Paul George and Chris Paul stay in Oklahoma City and Houston respectively, the Lakers could still end up signing LeBron. LeBron may want to go to LA, play with significantly less pressure, enjoy the Hollywood lifestyle and transition into the next stage of his life — which may end up being more interesting than his playing career.

I just have a hard time believing that LeBron will put himself in a situation where he can’t contend for a Title. Not when he’s still the best player in the game. That’s why …

Philadelphia 76ers

… based on the odds I’d get them at, I’d put money down on Philadelphia signing LeBron James within the next week or so. At 12/1 they feel like a significant underdog, especially compared to the Lakers. But a recent report by USA Today’s Sam Amick makes me think otherwise. Amick notes that the Spurs have told Western Conference teams that Kawhi won’t be traded within the Western Conference. He also writes that there is pessimism within LeBron James’ camp that Paul George will leave Oklahoma City.

If George re-signs with Oklahoma City, and if Kawhi is bound to be traded within the Eastern Conference, are we really to expect that LeBron James will be heading to Los Angeles to play alongside Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle? I’m skeptical.

Enter the Philadelphia 76ers, who could put together as interesting of a proposal for Kawhi Leonard as any other team in the league and still have the cap room to sign LeBron James to a max contract. Assuming the 76ers wow the Spurs with a trade offer over the next few days — let’s say something like Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, Zhaire Smith and that unprotected 2021 1st Round Pick coming from Miami via trade with Phoenix for Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills — wouldn’t a Kawhi-Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid trio be tough for LeBron James to ignore?

Couldn’t it be argued that “Completing The Process” is the next logical step for a man who has already won titles and Finals MVP’s in two different cities? Doesn’t playing alongside Simmons and Embiid extend LeBron’s career and open his championship window in a way that no other team can offer?

I think the answer to those previous three questions is “Yes.”

Think hard about placing a wager on Philadelphia. I have a feeling LeBron will too.

Sonny Giuliano
Sonny Giuliano is a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University and a resident of Dunk City. He's been writing about the NBA, NFL, College Basketball and College Football for almost ten years now, and he figured it was time to use his expertise to try to make his readers some money. If you're interested in engaging in some friendly sports banter, feel free to follow Sonny on Twitter, @SonnyCG
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