The most talked about news and rumors around the NBA these days is the free agent destination of LeBron James. Just like in 2010 when everyone’s guess was as good as anyone else’s, it is difficult to weed out truth from rumor, or theory from reality, when it comes to what James plans to do and what he’s thinking these days.
James going to any NBA team is, of course, not outside the realm of possibility, but not all of them fall within the realm of realism. Take the Toronto Raptors for example. The Cavs could do a sign-and-trade for James to go to the NBA team that he has owned in recent years and bring it closer to a championship. But it’s highly unlikely and not one that will happen anytime in the future.
Let’s look at some of the 10 most absurd theories and rumors that have been making the rounds on the web these days.
10. James can sign with any team in the East and they’ll be championship contenders immediately
This was a theory before the playoffs started and it’s one that Dwyane Wade hinted at recently (more on this later). James can go to any team that he wants (in the East, at least) and that team will be the favorite to win the conference.
That’s simply not true.
It took a herculean effort from James to bring his Cavs team to the Finals after being challenged mightily by the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics in these year’s playoffs. If you look at the weakest teams in the conference, the Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, it’s hard to imagine any of these team making the Finals even with James in their lineup.
9. New York Knicks have a shot at signing James this summer
Yes, the Knicks are one of the franchises that James would love to go to… but not right now. Even after hiring his former Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale, James is not yet ready to commit to the Knicks because they aren’t ready to compete for a championship by next season, a requirement for teams that James is considering.
Tim Hardaway Jr.’s bad salary ensured that this summer will be a difficult one for the Knicks and Enes Kanter’s status as a free agent will keep the team from creating a contender next season.
Most of all, franchise center Kristaps Porzingis is out for a few months after the season starts. The Knicks won’t be contending next season.
There are too many issues for the Knicks to be on James’ radar right now. New York simply cannot hope to think that the lure of the city and playing in Madison Square Garden are enough to entice the 14-time All-Star to play for the Knicks.
8. LeBron’s son is going to an L.A. school so he’s signing with the Lakers
There was a rumor that former All-Star Gary Payton spread around about James’ son, Bronny, that he was already committed to study and play for Sierra Canyon.
That school is in Los Angeles.
Payton told this to USA TODAY Sports Digital Property Black Sports Online and everyone thought it was a scoop from the mouth of the Glove.
And yet, with some actual journalism done (or, really, just a simple phone call), the rumor turned out to be false.
Simply look at the tweet below:
Just talked to a Sierra Canyon official on the rumor that Bronny James has committed: "That's news to us. He hasn't."
— Chris Martin Palmer (@ChrisPalmerNBA) June 11, 2018
The rumor has been quashed already leaving us wondering where Payton received his information.
James may yet decide to go and sign with the Lakers, but it will be for reasons other than his son going to a school in the vicinity. He will decide to play for the Lakers if they have championship aspirations next season and if they can build an immediate contender this summer. If not, then the King won’t set his throne in L.A. even if his son goes to school there.
7. LeBron + Paul George + Lakers kids = NBA Finals
LeBron will go to the Lakers. The most money the NBA can make is a Lakers v Celtics final with LeBron vs Kyrie. That’s the end game. Calling it now.
— Bill Squire (@billsquire) June 7, 2018
But even with coach Luke Walton pulling the strings from the sidelines, it’s hard to see this Lakers team as an improvement over the 2018 Cavs which lost to the Warriors in the championship round.
Championship contender? They’re a player or two away from that goal, as it’s more likely that the Warriors will continue to beat James in the postseason if he goes to L.A. without the roster improving by much more.
6. LeBron’s decision will be purely based on a lifestyle decision
This theory was from Dwyane Wade who speculated that the basketball decision is a secondary one to his family. In an interview on Fox Sports Radio’s Chris and Caron, Wade was asked what he thinks is the best scenario for his good buddy, LeBron.
“For me, I don’t think it’s a basketball thing. Obviously he’s shown this year that he can get to the Finals no matter what the circumstances are. I don’t really think the basketball decision will be saying, ‘Oh let me team-up with three All-Stars.’ I think at this point in his life it’s more of a lifestyle thing, ‘where my family is going to be most comfortable and where I’m going to be happiest at.’ Because basketball-wise he can bring along and take along whoever.”
James wants to compete at the highest level and the only way to do that is to play for a team that has a shot at winning a championship with players who are hungry to earn a ring. It’s not a given that any player will immediately join him wherever he goes by the fact that he’s there.
Wade’s assumption that his good friend is going to choose lifestyle over a chance to compete for a title seems way off of James’ desire to look for the best opportunity to win a title and looking to make his family comfortable at the same time. They are equally important to the 15-year veteran, who wants nothing more than to win as many titles as he can in his remaining years in the league.
Lifestyle alone won’t be the decision-maker for James. It has to be coupled with playing for a team that can win now.
5. LeBron had decided to leave Cleveland this summer ever since last year
The idea that James had decided to take his talents somewhere else once again a year before he became a free agent is ridiculous.
And yet, there are people claiming it to be real.
According to this tweet from ESPN’s Chris Sheridan, his sources said that James has been set on leaving The Land from way back.
NBA source said today: "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair."
— Chris Sheridan (@sheridanhoops) August 16, 2017
An NBA season is a long one and, given the highs and lows that come from a single year, can make someone change his mind several times. If the Cavs had somehow bucked the odds in the Finals and won a championship, he would want to stay in Cleveland to defend his title for sure.
Given that the source told Sheridan prior to the Cavs making offseason moves in the summer that would land them several new players, it’s difficult to imagine that James would have made a 100 percent decision about his future a year earlier than his actual free agency.
After the Cavs were swept by the Warriors, James gave a hint to the media as to his mindset heading into free agency during his postgame press conference.
“The one thing that I’ve always done is considered, obviously, my family. Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a preteen and a little girl that wasn’t around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that. So I don’t have an answer for you right now as far as that.”
This statement from James means that even then, almost a year after Sheridan’s tweet, James hadn’t made his mind up.
4. LeBron to the Boston Celtics
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith hinted at the Boston Celtics as a possible free agent destination for the highly-coveted superstar in an episode of “First Take.”
— Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman) June 6, 2018
“He’s going to have a conversation with Boston,” Smith said. “He’s going to have a conversation with Philly. Obviously the Lakers. Houston’s in the mix as well. They are going to go after him. Make no mistake about it.”
Yes, a conversation with Boston could happen and The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks outlined how it could be done.
“The simplest deal would be trading LeBron for Hayward, Marcus Morris, and a first-round pick. Cleveland, as much as they might hate to trade LeBron within their conference, would have to do it. If Hayward returns at 100 percent from his ankle injury, he would be their new franchise player, and a team built around Hayward and Kevin Love would immediately be relevant in the Eastern Conference. They could round out their starting lineup with some combination of George Hill, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr., Morris, and the no. 8 overall pick.”
As much as this would be a dream scenario for James, it’s unlikely for two reasons—Kyrie Irving left Cleveland to get out of James’ shadow and the Celtics have been his nemesis for a decade.
Going to Boston would be tantamount to James losing his competitive nature by joining his biggest rival in the East.
The only reason why this is not higher on the list is because of the next one. This would be the worst move of James’ career if he attempts to do it.
3. LeBron going to the Golden State Warriors
This rumor has been out since a report from ESPN’s Chris Haynes said that James would listen to a Warriors offer out of respect for the organization.
“If the Golden State Warriors can create a max salary slot this offseason, the defending NBA champions could position themselves to secure a meeting with LeBron James, league sources told ESPN.”
An earlier version of this report even had a theory as to how the Warriors can fit James into their salary structure given the fact that they have “$135 million tied up in payroll.”
“To make a sign-and-trade possible, Golden State also would need Kevin Durant to decline his player option and take even less than his current annual salary of $25 million, in addition to moving Shaun Livingston’s salary to a team with cap space. Golden State probably would have to fill out its bench with players making the league minimum.”
Unfortunately, Durant is not likely to take a pay cut, as he is expected to go for a supermax deal to stay with the Warriors.
This was back in February before the trade deadline. James immediately dispelled the rumor a day after per Dave McMenamin, also from ESPN.
“I think it’s a discredit to what I’m trying to do here,” James said. “It’s a discredit to my teammates and the coaching staff here. My only focus right now is trying to figure out how we can become a championship-caliber team in these next few months. It’s been so many stories about me in the last few months, in the last few days, about where I’m going and where I’m at and what place I’m in. I’m here, I’m right here, I’m right now and this is my present and this is where I’m at. If you don’t hear something coming from my voice, then it’s not true.
“I don’t give a damn how close they are [as a source], I don’t care if it’s my kids, or my wife or whatever. If it’s not from me, it’s not true, so. Not even like upset right now about it. I think it’s just a discredit to my teammates because I’m the leader of these guys and for them to have to hear that stuff every single day about my free agency, I apologize to them. I will handle my summer situation when my summer gets here, and I will not handle it now.”
The NBA season is now over but free agency doesn’t start until July 1. James can talk about this rumor again if he so chooses. However, it’s doubtful that he will address it any further.
Because James will never join the Warriors, the team that has given him three of his six losses in the Finals. If he were to play for Golden State next season, it would be the most gutless and cowardly move ever in the history of the NBA. It would be worse than Kevin Durant’s defection from the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Warriors in 2016 after the Bay Area squad defeated them in the Western Conference Finals.
James is concerned about his legacy and he knows what it has done to Durant’s. For the Cavs forward to follow in his footsteps would be to not learn from history and we all know that James is very much aware of the league’s history lessons.
As for Durant, it’s ridiculous to think that after besting James in the Finals two straight years that he would want to let his chief rival get a chance to win championships alongside him.
Let’s put this free agency rumor/theory to rest as James in a Warriors uniform will never happen. He will not listen to them or give them an opportunity to ruin his career further by making him look weak.
2. LeBron will announce his retirement
Of all the theories that have been thrown out there on the web, this may be the most absurd, but not entirely without merit. Believing that he may be physically and emotionally exhausted from the yearly Finals grind, James could retire this summer content in his legacy and not bothered at all by what critics will think of his decision to retire early.
After all, he earned the right to rest on his laurels after he brought his teams to the NBA Finals eight straight seasons.
1. LeBron will announce his retirement and come back after a year
Similar to the previous theory, James will do what Michael Jordan did, but this one is a planned exit and re-entry to the NBA. He just needs time for some R & R and re-evaluate what he wants to do in the league and where he really wants to do with his remaining years in basketball.
He could decide which city he really wants to play for. But if he wants the Cavs to be a better team next season, they could tank this year and get a high lottery pick, then James can come back to a team that has two very good young players on the roster which will include this year’s number eight pick.
The Cavs will be instant championship contenders again once he returns with a fresher mind and a hungrier desire to add to his ring collection.
If only this were true, Dan Gilbert can retain James’ services while securing his team’s future once the four-time MVP retires.