Since the game four clock struck zero last Friday night, one question has dominated not only all of the NBA talk, but much of all sports talk: Where will LeBron James play basketball next season? While there are no shortage of teams that would love to acquire the services of Mr. James, there are only a few that can realistically hope to lure him to their team. Of those few, only one can end up with him, so which one will it be?
Boston Celtics – Current Odds +1000
At first glance, the Celtics seem like a surefire front-runner to land LeBron. They have a talented young core, a talented young coach, and would have made a trip to the NBA Finals this year had they not run into LeBron and company in the Eastern Conference Finals. Oddly enough, all the reasons that make the Celtics seem like a great destination for James are the same reasons this won’t happen.
It is not easy to strike gold in the NBA draft. Heck, just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics, however, have made their picks count the past four years. Especially those coming in the first round: Jayson Tatum in 2017, Jaylen Brown in 2016, Terry Rozier in 2015, and Marcus Smart in 2014 make for a very impressive run in the draft. This draft success is what allowed them to take on the contracts of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. At the moment, the Celtics are primed to be the next dynasty in the NBA. Is a four-year stint with LeBron worth possibly ruining your chances at a decade of prosperity? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t put any money on the Celtics getting LeBron. Instead, put that money on them to win the East next year, or maybe even the Finals. Both are far more likely.
Houston Rockets – Current Odds +700
Why not Houston? Not only is Houston coming off a WCF appearance, but they looked ready to put away the Warriors in six games before Chris Paul went down with a hamstring injury in game 5. If LeBron wants to put the Warriors in his rear view, why not go to a team that had them down 3-2 after five games? The truth is, Houston might not be a bad choice, if LeBron was planning on doing pro bono work. There is only so much money to go around. Harden is locked into his contract, Paul wants a max deal, and even if Houston could somehow dump Ryan Anderson’s contract, they still need to get Capela signed. There simply is not enough money to pay LeBron and keep the essential pieces intact that had you in championship form. By all accounts, the Rockets will already have to make sacrifices if they hope to keep CP3 and Capela on the team. Adding LeBron to that only complicates the matter. Save your money on this one too.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Current Odds +450
Home sweet home. Actually, not sweet at all… just home. Vegas may have the Cavs ahead of most of the pack as far as odds go, but I can’t figure out why. Why would he come back to Cleveland? To play for an owner that you don’t respect and doesn’t respect you? To play with a guy you can’t count on to know the score of a game in the waning moments? Sure you could try to revamp the roster, but that is the kind of fixer-upper that even Chip and Joanna Gaines would shy away from.
The Cavaliers are home to some of the ugliest contracts in the league. For each of the next two years, they have George Hill locked in at about $18.5M a year, Tristan Thompson at about $18M, JR “I don’t know the score” Smith at about $15M, and Jordan Clarkson at about $12M. It would take a genius level owner/GM to fix this team and give them a chance to bring in the right players to even compete in the East next season. With Boston and Philly coming back stronger, I just don’t see how returning to Cleveland is even a possibility for LeBron basketball-wise. Cleveland is, however, one of the two places that LeBron’s wife has said that she prefers to be next year. What’s the other one? We’ll save that one for a little bit later.
Philadelphia 76ers – Current Odds +450
Philadelphia is, by all accounts, a good landing spot for LeBron. They’ve got a good young core like Boston, although definitely not as good. Simmons is said by many close to the league to be the next Magic Johnson, and Embiid is one of the last true “Big Men” out there. Both are soon to be in the top two or three players in their respective positions. Add James to the mix, maybe add another shooter (JJ Redick is a free agent this year), and you have yourself a team that not only is ready to start a great Eastern Conference rivalry with the Celtics, but also vie for an NBA title or two. This is one of my favorite scenarios. Picture it, you have a budding rivalry in the East between the Sixers and Celtics, another rivalry blooming in the West between the Rockets and Warriors, and whichever teams make it out of those fights alive, meet up in the NBA Finals for what is sure to be must watch television.
The only problem, as much as I love the idea of it, I don’t totally buy it. LeBron is at his best with the ball in his hands and Ben Simmons, as great as he is, isn’t much of a shooter, and by that I mean like, not at all. Is LeBron going to turn into a spot up shooter and let Simmons run the point? Is Simmons going to develop a shot over night? Both seem equally likely. I fear that at the end of the day, the idea of this team is far better than how this team would actually be.
Los Angeles Lakers – Current Odds -110
Far and away the best odds in Vegas, LA seems to me to be the place where LeBron ends up. The Lakers have the cap space to make moves in free agency or in trades. They have young talent, but none that they are so invested in that they won’t part ways with. In fact, Magic Johnson made it known that every player on their roster was available. This is how you entice LeBron. When he left Cleveland the first time, he didn’t leave to join the best roster in the league, he went to Miami so he could help piece together the roster with guys that he wanted to play with. Same thing happened when he left Miami for Cleveland. He had the opportunity to play with a young Andrew Wiggins, instead he opted to bring in veteran Kevin Love. LeBron likes to be a part of the roster building process wherever he goes. Magic seems to want to give LeBron that chance.
Add to that the latest news on Kawhi Leonard. Not only did the young star ask for a trade from San Antonio, but Leonard also made it known that he prefers to be dealt to the Lakers. But wait, there’s more, as if Kawhi wouldn’t be enough to get LeBron interested in LA, if the Lakers could free up some more cap room, they could bring in another guy who is rumored to have interest in joining the Lakers, Paul George. Teaming up with George and Leonard could be the perfect situation for LeBron to compete with the Warriors. That is why the Lakers are my pick to win the LeBron sweepstakes. Oh yeah I almost forgot, do you remember that second destination we talked about that LeBron’s wife preferred over the others? Yeah, it was LA. You know what they say, happy wife, happy life.