By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
LeBron James is going to have himself a busy summer.
After guiding the Cavaliers to their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, the 33-year-old James is expected to opt out of his contract and/or find a way to start a new chapter elsewhere. Given the lack of much of anything around James throughout the playoffs, it’s not hard to see why he’s entertaining such a possibility.
James will also have his pick of the league when it comes to picking his next destination, too. But according to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, this upcoming busy summer for No. 23. will include meetings with seven NBA teams.
But just who has the leg-up in those behind-closed-doors meetings with the greatest player of this generation?
I know I said seven and this idea goes against it, but here’s where you can put everybody else. A team that I’m surprised doesn’t get more love in this regard? The Washington Wizards. They have two other superstars, and the East is still weak. Watching John Wall and LeBron together could be the most fun D.C. has had in, like, four days.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers
There’s no way LeBron possibly gives real thought to the idea of staying in Cleveland, right?
I know he’s an Ohio guy, I know he’s thrilled with the legacy he’s repaired as a Cavalier.
But where do the Cavaliers go from here? Where and how do they get better, or at least strong enough to compete with the Warriors after winning just one of their nine NBA Finals head-to-heads? Do they even have the capability to do that?
They aren’t exactly loaded with trade options to pull off a big move, and it’s tough to imagine LeBron successfully luring Paul George to The Land given the other options out there. Cleveland is a sinking ship and I think LeBron is smart enough to realize that, especially with Boston and Philadelphia on the obvious rise and in better situations across the board.
6. Miami Heat
Haven’t we already done this whole thing? The Heat made sense when James first decided to leave Cleveland, but now? It’s hardly a step above the Cavs when talking about the Heat’s long-term chances given the competition within the East. James obviously fancies the fuzzy feelings that come with a reunion, but barring a DeLorean, I can’t see it happening in Miami.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
I think we would all agree that the Lakers were the original destination for The Decision II. It almost made too much sense.
The 33-year-old LeBron would get to maximize his Hollywood image (maybe we would finally get Space Jam 2 from those movie executive cowards), the L.A. rebuild would be close to ready, and the allure of playing for the Lakers would allow James to bring some guys with him. Some of that seems true, especially with George (a L.A. native) on the open market this summer. The Lakers also have some promising young guns in Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle, and Lonzo Ball.
But are the Lakers even close to dethroning the Warriors? Nope. So why would James essentially waste two or three precious years of his illustrious career to maybe guide a team to the third-round at the absolute best-case scenario?
4. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors? Really? Well, let me break it down like this: Nothing would shock me at this point. I would hate it — and it would absolutely ruin the NBA even more — but if this is truly about ring-chasing, going to Golden State would allow James to match Michael Jordan in just three years. I’m nauseous just ranking this team this high on the list.
3. Boston Celtics
This is Fantasyland stuff. But if there’s one basketball executive that could pull something like this off, it’s Danny Ainge.
I mean, we’re just a year removed from Ainge turning Isaiah Thomas into Kyrie Irving, and revamping his entire roster to fit Gordon Hayward into Boston on a max contract. If there’s a path that allows the Celtics to add James without completely disrupting the long-term health of the organization, Ainge will explore it. Given his subtle non-answer when asked about potentially reuniting with James (a player he grew sick of), that path would likely involve trading Kyrie Irving. The Celtics would need to move more than Irving out of town, though, likely including Marcus Morris and two of the C’s fringe players in any sort of (complicated deal). Does Ainge want to do that for the second year in a row? Probably not, but he’ll explore it.
(I also think this whole thing is a non-starter and goes out the window if and when Irving gives some sort of indication that he would like to stay in Boston beyond his current contract. Irving, who has not signed an extension because of the $80 million he’d essentially forfeit, for what it’s worth, says he has an ‘open dialogue’ with the coaching staff and management.)
But if James came to Boston, the Celtics would launch themselves from favorites in the East to favorites in all of the NBA. I truly believe that. No matter the necessary moves to fit everybody in — be it with or without Kyrie, Hayward, or Al Horford — James is the kind of talent that would seamlessly fit into what the C’s are trying to accomplish for their 18th NBA title.
The Celtics also possess the flexibility that comes with rookie contracts for both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, something that James gave as one of the biggest keys for the rise of the Warriors and their ability to add Kevin Durant in 2016.
Also: Here’s a column on why James-to-Boston makes perfect sense. (And one that tells you why it doesn’t.)
2. Houston Rockets
If the belief that you need three legitimate superstars is still reality, adding James to a mix of James Harden and Chris Paul would be a brilliant play by the Rockets. The Rockets were also a Game 6 and 7 collapse away from eliminating the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals this past season. If James is there, you’re talking about the Rockets in the NBA Finals. Not even a debate, really. Having James in the fold would also prevent James Harden, who honestly just has the complete makeup of Carmelo Anthony just with a beard, from throwing up roughly 60 (horrendous) three-point shots per night.
This would also finally give James and Chris Paul a chance to play together.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers are No. 1 for a few reasons, but none greater than the fact that they can offer James what he wants across the board. Financial flexibility? The Sixers have that. A coach he could easily steamroll to be the player he’s been for a decade and a half? Yup. And a youthful core he can help elevate to the next level and continue his domination of the East? Nailed it.
Injecting LeBron into The Process would complete it.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.