There have been a number of theories as to what LeBron James wants and where he will go when he becomes a free agent on July 1. James is expected to opt out of his current deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers as he seeks to not only become the highest paid NBA player, but also to play for a team that can give him the best shot at dethroning the Golden State Warriors as NBA champions.
James will likely decline his $35.6 million player option for the 2018-19 season to exercise his right to become a free agent once again.
If he re-signs with the Cavs, he will surpass Stephen Curry’s contract with the Warriors as the richest contract ever in league annals.
The Cavs will be able to offer LeBron James a projected max contract of 5 years, $205M this summer; all other teams can offer 4 years, $152M. Cavs at Lakers 9pm tonight on @espn pic.twitter.com/C0X1h1nOMm
— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) March 11, 2018
That huge difference in salary will certainly play a part in James’ decision-making this offseason.
Wading through the many suppositions out there as to what James might do this summer, here are the 10 most realistic free agency theories related to the King’s future destination.
10. LeBron and Dan Gilbert have a good working relationship
It may be surprising to think that James and his owner have a relationship to speak of but there is some form of understanding between the two.
When pressed during an interview by ESPN’s Rachel Nichols how his relationship was with Cavs team owner Dan Gilbert was, James said that they have a great working relationship.
“It’s not about me and Dan — we have a great working relationship,” James said. “It’s not like we’re not the best friends, and I don’t think you should be best friends with a player, and an owner shouldn’t be best friends unless I’m your father and that’s my son, and, OK, cool, we could be great then. But I think it’s worked out for us both in these four years so far since I’ve been back.”
As for the summer and how the ownership will play a part in his decision making, James kept the suspense up for everyone.
“We’re going to see,” James said.
James doesn’t have a great working relationship with Gilbert, but he has a good one. Good enough for him to stay in Cleveland and tolerate anything uncomfortable between the two. Gilbert has held up his end of the bargain by spending as much as he can to keep the Cavs in championship contention for the most part of LeBron’s second tenure in the city.
9. L.A. Clippers have a shot at landing LeBron
That house in L.A. that James owns doesn’t just benefit one NBA team.
James loves Jerry West. He read West’s book, “West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life,” during his time in Miami in the playoffs to focus him for the championship run.
West is an amazing executive and one who knows players that fit into the system of his teams. He can put together a package of players that will make James rethink about signing for the Lakers and instead consider playing for the Clippers.
8. The Philadelphia 76ers are the favorites in the East if LeBron signs with them
Some might think that this is a no-brainer but with the Celtics getting a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward next season, the Sixers, even with James on the team, is not guaranteed to win the East. The Celtics would be a big threat as Jaylen Brown and superstar-in-the-making Jayson Tatum will be better next season. Plus, they have the best defense in the league.
Then again, this is LeBron James we’re talking about.
Not only can James elevate the play of his teammates on the floor, he will also be able to mentor them during practices on what it takes to win. The 33-year old veteran will impart his vast wisdom onto future Hall of Famers, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. This duo is already one of the best combos in the league. Adding James into the mix will add at least 15 to 20 more wins for the Sixers.
The rest of the NBA should be afraid and try their best to keep James away from the Sixers. That Warriors championship will look old very early in the season.
7. Rockets can trade for LeBron
The Houston Rockets are going to be one of the most aggressive teams in pursuing James. GM Daryl Morey and ownership are obsessed with toppling the Warriors. If not for the injury that Chris Paul suffered in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, it could have been the Rockets who faced the Cavs in the Finals.
There are creative ways that Morey can go about trading for James this summer. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton outlined three steps they can take to make it happen and it all hinges on how to work around Ryan Anderson’s contract.
The fact is, Morey knows his way around trades as evidenced by their handling of the trade for Paul last offseason. If there’s anyone who can make this happen, it’s Morey.
6. Gregg Popovich will talk to LeBron about playing for the San Antonio Spurs
Marc Stein of The New York Times reported last week after the Finals that coach Popovich will grab a share of the free agency discussions with James as long as it’s within his power to do so.
“I’ve also been advised that the ever-persuasive San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich is bound to try to force his way into the conversation to sell James on the merits of South Texas,” Stein said.
James loves Popovich. He respects him like no other coach in the league. That’s why when he was interviewed after a game about Pop’s wife’s passing, James was speechless. If Pop were to sell the value of the team and the organization to James via a private meeting, James will definitely listen. He’ll be in a small market but this is the Spurs. They’re arguably the best small market team in sports. From the front office to the coach, the four-time Most Valuable Player will have the stability that he doesn’t have with the Cavs.
James knows that he hasn’t played for an all-time great coach before and Popovich will be the best coach-player pairing in basketball since Tim Duncan and Pop himself.
5. The James family’s home in L.A. will play a factor in his free agency decision
The Lakers must be feeling pretty good about their chances at hitting the summer jackpot with James and his family owning a home in L.A. According to reports, James has narrowed down his choices to two teams — the Cavs and the Lakers. They have homes in each city and having a family that needs a home to live in permanently rather than renting a place is a huge decision-making factor for the family.
LeBron and Savannah have three kids now and having a stable home environment is a priority for them. Rather than having to buy a new home, they have one in L.A. already which makes the Lakers a true viable destination spot for the All-Star forward.
If he considers the L.A. school for Bronny, James’ eldest child, The Chosen One may decide to go with him as the Lakers theoretically can land both Chris Paul and Paul George at the same time. If those two are in L.A., James might be inclined to follow them.
Check out Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard’s take on how this can happen:
4 Outside of the Cavs and Lakers, the Sixers have the best chance of landing LeBron
The talk right now is about the Cavs and the Lakers but don’t sleep on the Sixers. Super rookie Simmons and James share the same agent, Rich Paul. James has been mentoring and encouraging Simmons since before he came into the league. Playing with the soon-to-be sophomore on the same team would be similar to him playing with his son Bronny.
If the James family decides that Philly is a great place to raise their young family, then the Sixers will make the necessary roster moves to give the 6-foot-8 forward the best team that will complement his skills.
3. Cavaliers have a huge chance of keeping LeBron
Many think that the Cavaliers lost their shot at keeping James after the playoffs where he was virtually all by his lonesome in taking on the other teams. But the fact is, James loves being home and so does his family.
The Cavs can give him the highest salary of all the teams by more than $50 million. That’s leverage that no other franchise enjoys unless they sign-and-trade James to another team. But the Cavs have the right to sign off or not on that, too.
Many of the players still under contract can be traded to other teams as long as the Cavs sweeten the deal with a few draft picks here and there. GM Koby Altman has his work cut out for him if he wants to surround James with the best players available. But it’s not an impossible task.
With James’ clout these days, he could probably get DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George to play with him on this Cavs team. The only concern is how they’ll fill out the rest of the roster after doing a firesale of almost all their players.
2. Kyrie Irving will be shipped if the Celtics trade for LeBron
You can take this to the bank. Irving has wanted a team of his own even before the 2017 Finals ended. If the Celtics suddenly make an offer for James in a trade, that may be the last straw for him to leave Boston once his contract is up at the end of next season.
He has already said that he won’t sign an extension with the Celts this summer which means he will exercise his right as a free agent and that will leave the franchise with nothing to show for their 2017 trade with the Cavs. If the Celtics land James this offseason, expect Irving to be traded away to another team before the season starts.
1. Paul George will join LeBron wherever he goes
George and James are tight. When the two met up during last year’s offseason, it was a bonding session likely to talk about their impending futures.
This had resulted in plenty of fan speculation, but it isn’t only those who consume the NBA who are talking about the idea of George and LeBron James playing together.
ESPN’s NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the two are planning to play together next season.
Though this is a rumor, this is as realistic as it can possibly get with James and George likely playing on the same team either with the Lakers, the Cavs or the Sixers. The Cavs situation will be difficult with the salaries that they have to dump in order for them to sign George outright or to get him in a sign-and-trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But, again, it’s not impossible. Don’t be surprised if James and George play together on the same team on opening night of the 2018-19 season.