Carney Column: LeBron’s decision looms large for fate of NBA
It’s hard to believe one man’s decision in a league with as many as 450 active players could loom so large and change the future of the NBA, but that’s just how powerful of a man LeBron James is in today’s league.
With the NBA’s free agency window set to tip off Sunday, July 1, there’s one very big fish who’s future is uncertain at this point — at least in terms of what city he’ll call home next season, and that’s James.
For the last few years, ever since The Chosen One returned to Cleveland and led the Cavaliers to an NBA title and four straight finals appearances, questions about where LeBron would end up in the summer of 2018 also loomed large. Now that we’ve finally reached that point, the anticipation is almost suffocating.
Rumored to choose either the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, or stay with the Cavaliers, LeBron’s decision will send shock waves throughout the NBA, both good and bad.
The 76ers present the best possible option as currently constructed for LeBron, considering Philadelphia has Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric at their disposal right now, while also having a major trade asset in the 2021 unprotected first round pick from the Phoenix Suns that they just acquired last week in the NBA Draft. Philadelphia has the cap room, and the flexibility with its roster to add the greatest player of all-time (sorry Jordan fans).
However, the 76ers — on paper — aren’t a good fit for LeBron. The King needs the ball in his hands. Coincidentally, so, too, does Simmons, who can’t shoot when given space, and is more of a Magic Johnson clone than James. Embiid clogs the lane at times, taking away driving lanes for James. Philadelphia doesn’t have much shooting currently on the roster, so that possesses a problem for LeBron, who likes to have shooters stationed around him. That being said, if you’re the 76ers, you do whatever it takes to add the G.O.A.T.
For the Lakers, the bright lights of Los Angeles, the storied history of the Lakers’ franchise, and the financial flexibility for whatever is needed to put together what LeBron wants in a roster is right there. Plus, the James family owns two homes in Los Angeles, and a majority of the companies LeBron has his hands on are based in Los Angeles.
But, unlike the 76ers, the Lakers are ready-made to add LeBron. Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma are young and still developing, while Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle are hit-and-miss players, but are cheap and have high ceilings.
With the Cavaliers, Kevin Love and recently drafted rookie Collin Sexton out of Alabama are likely the only selling points for Cleveland’s roster as of today, unless one thinks LeBron is super excited to play with JR Smith, George Hill and Jordan Clarkson again. Based on the Cavaliers’ cap structure right now, they don’t have much room to add another superstar, so any idea of LeBron courting someone like Paul George or Boogie Cousins to Cleveland is unlikely.
Personally, I think he signs with the Lakers, giving him a chance to move his family to a set home base, allowing his sons to develop their basketball skills in California. On top of that, he’ll learn at the hip of Magic Johnson on what it takes to eventually become a team owner, while also setting himself up to become one of the first billionaire basketball players ever. That has to sound enticing for LeBron. Aside from himself signing there, LeBron’s decision could allow Paul George to return home to L.A. to play for the Lakers, while also giving the Lakers some serious trade chips in Ball, Kuzma or Ingram to deal for someone like Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio, or Damian Lillard in Portland.
While LeBron’s decision will change the future of whichever franchise he picks come July 1, his decision could also shake up the league as we know it. No, his decision won’t dethrone the Golden State Warriors, but it could make the Eastern Conference an absolute joke, should he head West. Aside from the 76ers in the east, the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors are the only real title contenders in the Eastern Conference, should LeBron leave the Cavs.
If he spurns the Lakers for the 76ers or Cavs, Los Angeles will have to recalibrate its aim on star players in free agency, and just continue to build around the young talent they currently have. If it comes down to the 76ers or Cavs, just pencil in either one for the next 2-3 years as the Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals yet again. Could we go for a Part 7 of Warriors-Cavs? It’s quite possible.
Wherever LeBron chooses to sign, it’s certain to shake up the league. I’m just glad he’s not doing it on national television with hundreds of Boys & Girls club members from Cleveland behind him.
Sports Editor Josh Carney will not hear anyone’s slander of LeBron James compared to Michael Jordan. At the very least, he’ll concede that LeBron is a 1A to Jordan’s 1, but that’s it. To talk basketball, or any other sport that you’re interested in, you can reach Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org