The future destination of LeBron James is at stake in the upcoming 2018 NBA Playoffs with the Cleveland Cavaliers seeking to enter the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year and possibly win it all for the second time in three seasons. James activated his Zero Dark Thirty-23 mode before the postseason has even begun, meaning he is more focused than ever to bring another title to Cleveland.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 15, 2017
That potential for another championship is what drives James to do what he does on a nightly basis. It’s why he continues to play the game and why he is driven to “chase the ghost” of Chicago, referring to Michael Jordan and his six championship rings. He wants to leave behind a legacy that recognizes him as the best to ever play the game.
As foolhardy as some might think that is, James has not shied away from his desire to be considered the “Greatest of All-Time.” Why else do you think he has “Chosen 1” tattooed on his back?
James is also driven by excellence in honing his craft and his body to the point where he has no weaknesses. Though it’s been suggested that his only true weakness at this point is his free-throw shooting, which has been average throughout his career, the King of Cleveland has improved in just about every major category.
James has played more than a decade in the NBA and his fans appreciate his greatness even more and are savoring every moment watching him on the hardwood.
The next few years will be critical for James, as his goal of pursuing more championships will be determined by the team he chooses to play for this offseason.
Several teams, if not all 29, are interested in acquiring the 14-time All-Star’s services, but according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, the ones who truly have a shot at luring him away from the Cavaliers are the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Houston Rockets.
O’Connor’s sources also include staying in Cleveland as one of James’ options this summer, of course. Among these four teams, there are really only two plausible destination spots for James to consider—Cleveland and Philly.
Why Not the Lakers?
They say that L.A. is a place that James should consider going to if he wants to even further build his brand. The fact that he wants to pursue movie deals is also a major attraction for James with Hollywood. And more importantly, Magic Johnson, the Lakers President of Basketball Operations, wants him on their team so he could build another championship team.
But the Lakers’ chances at contending for a title lie heavily on how good his supporting cast is. Potential is the key word here.
Though the Lakers have the cap space to sign two max-contract players (with Paul George as the other target), there’s no guarantee that James, even with George, can potentially come out of the West every year to go to the Finals. James Harden/Chris Paul’s Houston Rockets and Stephen Curry/Kevin Durant’s Golden State Warriors will make it tough for James and company for a long time.
If he goes to the Lakers, he may not win as many championships as he can staying in the East.
Why Not the Rockets?
The Rockets are an intriguing team for James to sign with and play for. With Harden and close friend Paul on the team, the potential for a dynasty with Houston is huge. James has shown no signs of slowing down at age 33, Harden is in his prime, and Paul is as competitive and hungry to win a championship as any. If these three team up, the NBA could be theirs for the next five years, minimum.
But it is doubtful that James will follow the path that Kevin Durant took by leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder and joining the 73-9 Warriors. When Durant took the easy path to a championship, his competitive nature was questioned by many, including some of the league’s legends. James undoubtedly took note of the backlash that Durant received, and after his Decision in 2010, he would be wise to avoid a similar career move that would hurt his legacy.
Going to the Rockets would elicit more vicious responses on social media than even Durant received in the 2016 offseason. Why? Because he’s in the conversation for the greatest player ever, and going to a championship-ready team will only add fuel to the false narrative that he can’t win a championship unless it’s handed to him on a silver platter in the form of high-quality All-Star teammates.
Yes, Magic Johnson had James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, both Hall-of-Famers, and Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman as teammates, but warranted or not, nobody will cut James slack if he plays with Harden and Paul on the Rockets.
His legacy will be on the line if he signs with the Rockets, and that’s something greater than any championship can offer.
Why the Sixers
If James wants to take his talents to another city again, he shouldn’t move out to the Western Conference. Philly should be his first consideration because he’s still staying in the East with a much easier path to the Finals every year. Most of his competitors have already moved to the West because they simply could not beat him where he is.
Though it’s more competitive in the West, they at least have a shot at getting to the Finals every now and then. Not so in the East, however, and that’s why James needs to keep his address in the conference that he has owned since 2011.
The Sixers have the best upside of any young team in the league to reach the mountaintop of a championshi,p and unlike the Rockets, Philly has yet to reach the level of success Houston has achieved this season. They are still a player or two away from contending for a title and are not a sure commodity yet in the playoffs, as this year is their first playoff appearance since 2012.
LeBron asked about those 3 Philly billboards, “I know all about it, there’s a lot of potholes on 480.” He then says he knows about them, and that it is flattering “that I’m sitting here at 33 in my 15th year … that people in their respective city want me to play for them.” pic.twitter.com/TrKUDbq34a
— Ashley Bastock (@AshleyBastock42) February 27, 2018
Unlike the Lakers, the Sixers possess two players who could makeup one of the best tandems in the NBA quite soon in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, if they continue their ascent to greatness. This year has shown us how dangerous they can be together. Each of them accomplished feats that had them mentioned in the same breath among the league’s greats.
— NBA (@NBA) January 17, 2017
With his 8th triple-double, Ben Simmons passes Magic Johnson for 2nd most triple-doubles ever by a rookie. pic.twitter.com/fxolxmuZPX
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 16, 2018
Second-year man Dario Saric is another budding young player who has the talent to become an All-Star someday. He is a capable ball handler and can bang with the big boys down low. Plus, he’s got a three-point range to his game, knocking down nearly 40 percent of his attempts from the field this season.
There’s also the matter of Markelle Fultz, whose ability to play in the league has been questioned after a shoulder injury that affected his shooting motion. Anything that we’ve seen from Fultz at this point are just flashes of his potential, since he’s reportedly still recovering from his injury.
There are hints that he can be as good as everyone believed he was going to be when he entered the 2017 Draft. If he reaches that level within the next two to three years, then the league has another All-Star point guard coming in Philly.
The King’s Task
With all this talent at the Sixers’ disposal, why would they need James in the first place?
The fact is, talented teams take time to develop into becoming actual championship contenders. The Lakers didn't immediately win titles with Shaq and Kobe, losing to the Utah Jazz’s John Stockton and Karl Malone as well as the Spurs’ Tim Duncan and David Robinson in the postseason before becoming a championship team once former Bulls coach Phil Jackson entered the picture.
James and All-Star forward Chris Bosh didn’t become champions until they teamed up with Wade in Miami. Even then, after they got there, it took them one more year before they reached their max potential. And, these are veterans we’re talking about, not young players who needed time to get acclimated to the league.
This is where James comes in. The 4-time MVP will fast-track their development and give them the confidence they need to become a championship team. If James is going to a team that he wants to help develop, it’s the Sixers. What they need is a player who can get them over the hump and teach them how to win. James is that player.
Playing for the Sixers gives him the opportunity to extend his legacy beyond his playing career, teaching Simmons everything he knows and playing the role of a true mentor to an up and coming all-time great.
Sports Illustrated’ Lee Jenkins wrote in the December 4, 2017 issue of the magazine that James recognized the potential that Simmons had at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas prior to his foray into the NBA.
“You have an opportunity,” James told Simmons, “to be better than me. But you can’t skip steps. You have to do the work.” Those words helped sustain [Simmons] when he stumbled at LSU and helped fuel him as he rehabbed in Philadelphia. “Is this really going to happen?” he asked himself. He knew, even if others wavered, that it would. Because LeBron said so, and for a prospect of Simmons’s vintage, no endorsement means more. “Part of his greatness,” Simmons says, “is that he wants others to be just as great.”
Since that time, James has taken an active role in being a mentor to the rookie. The veteran of countless playoff games wants to be able to pass on his vast knowledge to young players, those who will carry the league to the next decade and beyond.
It would be a similar set up to the Spurs’ Robinson and Duncan combo. Robinson tutored a young Duncan in his rookie year and then proceeded to hand him the reins to the team the very next year. The result? Robinson finally won a championship after nine years in the league.
He allowed Duncan to shine by letting him have sole possession of the spotlight rather than have it on both of them so that he could focus on defense and let the offense revolve around his protégé. Four years after, during Robinson’s final year in the NBA, the Spurs won the title again.
James could do the same for Simmons, but with the additional benefit of having another elite player to guide with Embiid. This allows James to ride off into the sunset quietly while Simmons and Embiid help him continue to win championships as he gets older.
If James earns three or more championships before his career ends, then the conversation about him being the G.O.A.T. will have a stronger narrative in his favor.
The Ringer’s Bill Simmons believes that this is an opportunity that James shouldn’t pass up, arguing that he should go to Philly this offseason if he wants to be better than Jordan.
“If LeBron wants to grab the GOAT horns, he needs to keep piling up Finals trips and maybe even one or two more rings. He needs to put himself in position for his own Roy Hobbs moment (even if The Block in Oakland wasn’t too shabby). He needs to get lucky and have a 7-foot-2 superfreak unicorn defy the odds and stay healthy. He needs to buddy up with his favorite Klutch client, a mirror image of himself physically, and play the “I’m gonna teach Ben everything I know” card. He needs to move his business to Manhattan. He needs to recruit the hell out of another A-lister like Paul George. He needs to roll the dice with Philadelphia.
It’s the second-best narrative with the absolute highest ceiling. And you know what else? Don’t laugh … but it’s the one move that might make Michael Jordan nervous.”
Okay, I doubt Jordan would be nervous about another number 23 surpassing him in terms of championships or even more people considering James as better, but it will definitely light a fire under the belly of the most competitive athlete ever. The problem is, Jordan can’t change people’s opinions anymore since he’s no longer playing.
But James can do that with a move to the Sixers that will give him his best shot at winning multiple championships.
Why the Cavaliers?
Home and Hope
To put it simply, Cleveland is home for The King.
James and Cleveland have been through this divorce before, and it didn’t end well. Though he’s already given them a championship, the people of The Land need him to keep their hopes up that they will be right in the thick of the championship race again, and again, and again. It doesn’t matter if he fails; his city needs him beyond the championships themselves.
As a native of Akron, Ohio, he’s embraced by Cleveland as their adopted son, the one who gave them hope in the midst of the sports-championship drought that the city experienced for 52 years until he gave them a title in 2016. That hope is what inspires the people of the city to keep striving and working hard knowing that “Nothing is given. Everything is earned.”
James brings something more tangible than hope. He gives people jobs simply because he plays for the Cavaliers. The last time he left, Cleveland experienced an economic downturn that affected businesses around the city. A previous editorial titled “The financial crisis that Cleveland will face if LeBron James leaves” explaining in detail what will happen to the city’s businesses if he leaves. Included is a study of James’ economic impact on the community when he returned.
“In 2015, an economic impact study done by the Convention Sports & Leisure, every Cavs playoff game had a $3.6 million economic impact and every NBA Finals game had a five million dollar impact. In fact, Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland generated $927,000 in admission taxes. On top of that, the Quicken Loans Arena created 3,500 jobs and generated $288 million in total output plus $34 million in taxes to the local government in 2015 alone.”
Are sentimentality and continuing economic prosperity for Cleveland the only reasons for James to stay?
No, of course not.
A Competitive Team
The Cavs need a competitive team, one that’s not rebuilding but rather one that has a fighting chance of winning a title. Despite what naysayers believe about the future makeup of the Cavaliers, they can field a team capable of supporting James’ bid for a fourth title.
That Brooklyn Nets draft pick they acquired from the Kyrie Irving trade could turn into one of the top three picks in the lottery. It’s a small chance, but a chance nonetheless. The worst that can happen is that the Cavs pick from the ninth spot in the draft, which isn't great but also not terrible.
With a draft that’s considered one of the most talented in recent years, Cleveland can select a player who could be quite special. Should they land a top three pick, they can use that to select a possible future franchise player who will take over the mantle of leadership once James retires.
Then, there’s the other option.
Cleveland can opt to trade that pick along with a player or two to acquire an All-Star-caliber talent. Where the Cavs will be picking will determine the talent they can bring in from a trade. Assuming they get one of the top three picks (they’ve defied the odds before by getting the first pick in the 2014 draft despite having the sixth best record among the 13 non-playoff teams), they will have the opportunity to trade that pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.
More than any team in the league, the Cavaliers are the only franchise that can offer James the most money. If he re-signs with Cleveland, he could get a super-max contract worth $205 million for five years. That’s $53 million more than other teams can offer, which is $152 million for four years. That would make him the highest paid player in NBA history.
Do you think James doesn’t want that distinction? Of course, he does.
But more than the distinction itself, $53 million is a lot to give up, no matter how much money you already have. It’s another reason why staying put would be an incentive for Cleveland’s King James.
As Cavs Nation’s Brandon Lee noted, “James has normally settled on short deals in modest amounts in order to gain a personal leverage. However, it appears that this summer could be different for him. If James intends on settling down this season, money could play a factor in any long-term deal.
The Cavs have the money to make things difficult for other teams trying to take James away, and it could be a deciding factor this summer.
Winning the 2018 Title
We haven’t even discussed James’ odds of winning the title this season with the current lineup. Even though the Cavs haven’t been consistent, they are quite capable of winning the championship if they can find a way to shore up their defensive deficiencies in the playoffs.
The Cavs are the 29th worst defensive team in the league, but they have the 4th best offensive rating, too. If they can stop surrendering too many easy baskets and three-pointers in the postseason, the Cavs can beat any team in the league.
With James in tow, many still consider the Cavs as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference crown barring any unforeseen collapse in the first three rounds. Any team with James is going to be the team to beat in the East, as he can single-handedly put a stranglehold on a series when he wants to.
If they do the improbable again and win a championship with this Cavaliers squad, James will almost certainly return to Cleveland to defend his crown. But, if the Cavs fail to win the championship this year, whether they reach the Finals at all or not, then James could bolt for another team, and that franchise is likely going to be Philly.
Philadelphia or Cleveland?
For James’ followers, there are only two places that they should want their idol to go to—Philadelphia, because of the opportunity that James has to extend his legacy and a greater chance to win more championships, or Cleveland, because of the people, the city, and the teammates he will have that are good enough to compete for a championship.
Whichever route he takes this summer, James is going to secure his future. There should be no burning of his jerseys if he leaves Cleveland for Philadelphia since he has already delivered on his promise to bring a championship to the city. If James decides to stay in Cleveland, everyone should celebrate his decision to continue and perhaps finish his career with the team that drafted him.
Either way, the King’s Witnesses should be happy for him regardless of his decision this time around.