The 2017–2018 NBA season has yet to begin, but speculation is already abuzz about where LeBron James could end up next summer. The biggest rumored destination appears to be the Los Angeles Lakers time and again. However, let’s take a step back and look at this scenario from what we know of LeBron, and what makes basketball sense from a ‘fanalyst’ perspective.
First things first, we know that LeBron wants to win RIGHT NOW. With the Golden State Warriors players all in their prime years, whatever LeBron (or any other free agent for that matter) chooses to do, it’s measured by one question and one question only, “Can we beat the Dubs?” Right now, no team or player outside of the Bay Area has an answer to that.
To put LeBron in the best possible scenario to win another championship over the next three years, let’s look at the ‘Top 5’ landing spots for him.
5. New York Knicks
The Knicks have been terrible since forever now, but the team does align with LeBron’s needs in a few categories. First it’s New York — LeBron’s bigger than life and so is NYC. He can play basketball and operate his many business interests outside of basketball in the biggest advertising market in the world. Additionally, the team hasn’t had a legitimate superstar since Patrick Ewing, who never won a championship. This gives LeBron a clear path to put his stamp on the franchise and the city.
On the court, LeBron can pair up with one of the best big men in the game in Kristaps Porzingis — everyone else is expendable so there’s a clean slate here once Carmelo is off the books this year via buyout or trade. Not to mention, the vacant GM and coaching seats are flimsy, so LeBron can make his wish list and slide them to ownership on a paper napkin. To recap, there’s Lebron + Porzingis + whoever else LeBron wants. The King gets to stay in the Eastern Conference, which paves an easier yellow-brick-road to the championship showcase.
There is a downside to going to the Knicks though. The biggest one being, LeBron can be a sore loser at times and the media might eat him alive if, and when, he fades in spotlight moments. Not to mention that New York fans are unforgiving too. Then again, this may be something that strengthens LeBron’s character and further pushes him to greatness. The Knicks are a great option for a control-centric LeBron, but not exactly the win RIGHT NOW team if ownership doesn’t respond once the ink dries on the contract. That could make for terrible prime years for LeBron.
4. San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard is a silent beast, a White Walker in disguise. Outside of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, he probably gets to the rim easier than any other player in the league. Pairing LeBron and Kawhi together would be a death duo. You can literally place three other ‘average’ players on the court and it’ll still turn out well on any given night. However, it’s not the pairing itself that’s scary, it’s the trio of LeBron + Kawhi + Popovich.
If LeBron were simply about winning and winning only, this is the destination for him.
On the flip side, it could never work. First things first, playing for the Spurs literally means that players trade in their egos, identities, and personalities for a jersey number. Secondly, Popovich is the leader and that’s that. You whine, you sit. You talk back, you sit. You don’t hustle, you sit. LeBron’s not down with that. Period.
Lastly, there’s nothing in San Antonio for LeBron, and the team will forever belong to Tim Duncan and David Robinson. That’s bad for brand.
3. OKC Thunder or Houston Rockets
These two teams will be the ‘just add water’ destinations next summer. Both teams have two alpha dogs in place already that will have played with one another for a year already in Russell Westbrook + Paul George and James Harden + Chris Paul. To be honest, these teams will both be too rich with contracts and too top heavy for consideration, so it would never work. Plus, LeBron James doesn’t want to be a part of a team so much as he wants to be the team and build his personal brand. Neither of these destinations builds upon that, yet both would be a sight to see on the court.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Even if the Golden State Warriors are the team of the hour, there’s no team larger-than-life as are the Los Angeles Lakers. There’s not only history in the organization, but there’s also new and renewed blood in the core personnel of Team President Magic Johnson, Coach Luke Walton, rookie phenom Lonzo Ball and fast flourishing Kyle Kuzma. The team is all about rings and the city is all about glamour; two things that LeBron can easily buy into.
Every player on the Lakers (not named Lonzo, Kuzma, or Ingram) is expendable at this point. Additionally, the team has a war chest the size of Scrooge McDuck’s basement — gold bricks that are stacked, stamped and ready to spend with a purple seal of approval by Magic and one of the Buss’s.
The roster would be free and clear to bring in an entire starting lineup. Anyone and everyone from John Wall, Chris Paul, Boogie Cousins, Paul George to LeBron James himself. Let’s not forget that Russell Westbrook can be swapped for one or both of the guards. The possibilities of stacking next year’s Lakers team would be like playing with special edition Lego’s.
The ONLY drawback to this scenario for LeBron is that he would live in the shadow of Kobe Bryant. Kareem, Magic and the other Laker greats are from different eras so they don’t matter much, but Kobe looms large in the present. LeBron’s brand can ill-afford to be overshadowed by five rings that he may never get close to. LeBron’s brand and legacy may overshadow a desire to rub shoulders with Jack and Denzel on the sidelines. Besides, LeBron can hop on his private jet to run any or all of his companies in LA whenever he wants.
Prime Destination: Miami Heat
Magic may be the man in LA right now, but Pat Riley is the Godfather! Riley’s proposition to LeBron is easy, “We’ve done it before and we can do it again.” Plus, LeBron’s had a taste of Miami already.
Let’s forget about how the money works out for a moment because Pat Riley can make anything happen. He’s the lifeline you want on any gameshow and in any situation in life — call Pat Riley. In thinking about the team as it stands, Hasan Whiteside is the only must-keep piece on the roster. In Erik Spoelstra, LeBron has a coach that he trusts already. In Riley himself, LeBron has the man who knows how to piece together a team for winning RIGHT NOW. Clearly if LeBron ends up back in Miami, Dwayne Wade is a must-add sixth man for both leadership and ‘making things right’ in the basketball universe. Ideally, Wade can retire gracefully after another run and give LeBron the ‘right of passage’ as the Heat’s leader.
A move to Miami does several things for LeBron:
Keeps his legacy and promises intact among two teams.
Keeps him in the Eastern Conference.
Gives him a front office that knows what it’s doing.
Pairs him with coaches and surrounding players built for RIGHT NOW.
Adds another layer to his legacy if Miami wins more championships.
While the Los Angeles Lakers appear to be the glamorous destination, I look for LeBron to call Miami home once again in the near future.
(This article was originally published on July 12, 2017)