LeBron James wants championships. He’s not afraid to work hard. He’s not afraid to demonstrate consistency at a higher level that most would think barely possible. But he also knows he can’t do it alone.
As Dwyane Wade’s and Chris Bosh’s shots stopped falling and the bench production continued to fail, LeBron felt the mounting pressure of trying to make the Heat produce under the relentless passing attack of the San Antonio Spurs. As he sat on the bench in the last few minutes of game 5 of the NBA Finals, you could see LeBron thinking on his future. Thinking hard.
This morning, on June 24 of 2014, LeBron’s agent declared that James would become a free agent on July 1. The sports world has exploded with theorems and postulates, assumptions and examinations on what Lebron James might do and where he might go.
The simple answer is anywhere he f*cking wants to. The real answer? Out of thirty NBA franchises only seven truly have a shot at landing the biggest whopper in professional sports.
#7 New York
Carmelo Anthony is gone and New York is barren of bonafide stars. The good news is on their side though. They have Phil Jackson as President of Basketball Operations, Derek Fisher’s experience with the triangle as coach and enough cap space to seduce a massive talent.
Although New York may be short on championship player pedigree, they have the back office championship power to potentially become a contender with James and a couple of well-placed free agents. Will LeBron be willing to wait a couple of years while the Knicks get their act together though?
#6 Oklahoma City
OKC has the youth and heart to win in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But neither of them have been able to get over that championship hump, even when they had James Harden.
In order to really make that hard championship run they need someone else to do the heavy lifting. Enter, LeBron.
The problem? They can’t pay him. OKC is over cap space by a long yard and Durant and Westbrook can’t restructure their deals until ‘16 and ‘17 respectively. If they did sign him, they’d take a MASSIVE luxury tax hit that might cut deep into their profitability. They could probably sell that massive Larry O’Brien trophy to make up the losses though.
#5 Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers have $12 million in cap space, a few players who are looking to test free agency, a bona fide point guard in Chris Paul, a power forward for the ages in Blake Griffin and a shot blocker in DeAndre Jordan.
In order to make room for a massive LeBron James contract, one of those three might have to go. However, if LeBron is willing to take a decent pay cut, he could be the defensive spark they’ve needed in order to make a genuine play for the title.
The strong money is always on the incumbent and, in this case, Pat Riley knows how to snatch up a superstar. He did it three times in one season, remember?
Miami made a lot of moves this past season to help their luxury tax position, but not to help Lebron. Miami also took a risk on Michael Beasley and Greg Oden, two NBA journeymen with a myriad of physical and mental issues. As such, Lebron played a ton of minutes while Dwyane Wade saved his aging body for the playoffs.
If Pat Riley wants to keep LeBron, he’s gonna have to demonstrate that he can get players that will keep Miami in contention throughout the season so that LeBron can play less minutes in preparation for a long, difficult playoff stretch. If he can do that, LeBron may be able to convince Bosh and Wade to take less money to make room for them. If not, you can look forward to Miami’s version of Cleveland’s song begging LeBron not to leave.
Houston has been making deals and planning trades to make room for Carmelo Anthony in case he became a free agent to use his talents to compliment James Harden and Dwight Howard. Now that he has, they are almost in a prime position to get him. However, with LeBron on the market they may choose to divert their attentions. If you go for one and lose will you be able to nab your consolation prize though?
On July 8, 2010 LeBron James committed to the Miami Heat during “The Decision.” Up until then Chicago had been one of the leading contenders to draw LeBron away from Cleveland. Now they find themselves in that position again since he’s declared free agency. The problem? They’ve been preparing to make a go at Carmelo Anthony.
The Bulls started working and maneuvering behind the scenes months ago as they prepared for ‘Melo to declare, just in case he did. Once he did, they’ve been salivating for July 1 when they can officially start negotiating with his agent. But with LeBron on the market, they might reevaluate once again.
Their pass-heavy offense frustrated the Miami Heat’s defense during the regular season much like the Spurs did during the Finals. Joakim Noah is a talented defender who’s good for double-doubles in points and rebounds. If Derrick Rose gets healthy you have two former MVPs playing for one team.
Of course, if you go for LeBron and lose… can you still pull Anthony? That’s what the Bulls, much like Houston, have to figure out.
Dallas currently sits at $32 million under cap. That is a lot of money to play with. With that kind of space they could get both Lebron and ‘Melo provided those two and Dirk were willing to negotiate for less money.
Rick Carlisle has a championship under his belt and Dallas took the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs to the full seven games in the 2014 playoffs, something LeBron’s Heat couldn’t do.
So… you have a championship coach, MVP-caliber player, payroll and a proven back office that knows how to put a team together? That’s why Dallas is the #1 contender, even if Dirk doesn’t think it’s likely to happen.
Where do you think LeBron should play? Comment below!