Once again, LeBron James is the marquee name on the board as we kick off another wild NBA Summer of Free Agency. Will the King take his talents elsewhere again or will he remain in his hometown?
By Tyrone Eddins Jr.
”Hear ye, hear ye! Let all subjects across the land bear witness. It has been decreed that King James shall henceforth play for the (fill in the blank)...”
Well sports fans, once again we find ourselves in a familiar, nerve-wracking place. Here we stand on the verge of entering the best offseason of all of the major professional sports. None of the other big-league sports, not the MLB, the NFL, the NHL, or the MLS, offer anywhere close to this level of offseason excitement. First we had the NBA Draft, but that was just the appetizer. Just a little something to wet our whistle, get our juices going, and tide us over until the main course was ready. Well, sports fans, dinner is about to be officially served starting on July 1st at midnight. And what a magnificent feast it will be!
The annual NBA Free-Agency frenzy has become a season of its own, so full of drama, surprises, and disappointment that it has become required viewing for all NBA fans. Two years ago, Kevin Durant was the big dog on the block seeking a new home. This year it’s LeBron James a.k.a. The King.
As we all know, this is Bron’s third go-around with free agency. So, at this point he is a seasoned veteran of the process and a proven chess-player capable of moving all of the pieces around the board as he chooses. There was the first Decision in July 2010 when James elected to leave his beloved Cleveland and head south to Miami where he proceeded to win his first two championships. As we all know the “Decision” wasn’t received well, especially by fans of the Cleveland Cavs, who proceeded to vilify an demonize James, even going so far as to burn his jersey (I could and probably will write an entire piece on that bit of stupidity). Even the Cavs owner got in the on the act by penning a scathing critique of James. Petty, immature, and unappreciative doesn’t even begin to describe Dan Gilbert or the Cleveland fans during fiasco.
Then, four short years later we witnessed the “Decision 2.0” where James truly showed just how big his heart is. He put aside any ill-will he may have been harboring regarding the blowback he received after the first decision and decided to head back home to where it all started for him. James’ return to Cleveland was deemed a miracle and he was embraced by the same fans and a team owner who hated him just four year earlier.
James sent a clear message with his return that his mission was to bring Cleveland its first NBA championship. In 2016, he delivered on that promise in shocking fashion by leading the Cavs back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors and claim the Cavs’ first NBA title in franchise history. So, it was all good right? Well it was, for a time.
Now just two short years later after losing to those same Warriors two times in a row in the NBA Finals, The King finds himself at another career crossroad. There has been plenty of speculation about what King James will do. The beauty of all of this is that he isn’t lacking for options. He can opt out of his current contract with the Cavs and hit the free market unrestricted or he can opt in and force a sign and trade between the Cavs and his preferred destination. But let’s not forget that LeBron can also opt in for the final year of his current contract with the Cavs, remain in Cleveland, and do this whole thing over again next summer.
The key thing to remember is that ‘Bron is in the driver’s seat here as he has been for his entire career. James has mentioned several times that his family and other inner circle members will have a voice in his decision so that needs to be factored in as well. Does his family want to relocate to Houston? At this year’s NBA Awards ceremony, James Harden was quoted as saying “We were a half away from the Finals, so I don’t think there is a piece that we need to bring in or take away. We’re great with what we have, from top to bottom...” Was that meant to be a message to LeBron to stay away from Houston? What about Philly and their young, talented superstars? Are they in the mix? Does the James family want to stay in Cleveland or will the bright lights and sunny weather of LA be too much to resist? LeBron’s growing business empire already has various dealings in LA and there is also a rumor that his son, LeBron Jr., could be attending school in LA next year as well.
In addition to family and off-court business considerations, there is also the consideration of who LeBron will team up with either in Cleveland or on a new team. Can he attract a big name like Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, or Chris Paul to Cleveland or or maybe he can convince them to meet him in LA, similar to how he helped put that Miami Heat squad together. Will ‘Bron consider going to Philly to team up with Simmons and Embid?
Personally, I think LeBron stays put in Cleveland for at least another year if he is able to lure at least one more superstar there to play with him. Who will that be? I have no clue. But I think LeBron stays put, gets his money, and then reevaluates this time next year. It is easy to say that LeBron has had enough of losing in Cleveland and he wants to go to a team that will get him another championship. However, everyone needs to remember that LeBron has played his entire career in the Eastern Conference and the Western conference is currently a much tougher road to the Finals.
Playing in the East, LeBron has made the finals EIGHT straight times. That’s unheard of unless your name is Bill Russell. So why would LeBron want to head out west at this stage of his career? I don’t see it, but who knows I could be wrong. The only other team I see LeBron possibly considering is Philly, but the issue with that possibility is that LeBron and Simmons essentially play the same role. So, how would that work and will that kind of move help or hinder Ben Simmons’ development as a player?
There is so much wrapped up in this one free-agent move that we can all spend days, weeks, and months analyzing and theorizing. Well, most us have already been doing that anyway. However, time is no longer on the side of the pundits, soothsayers, and conspiracy theorists. News outlets recently reported that LeBron doesn’t need or want the elaborate free-agent pitches from his potential suitors. It has also been reported that ‘Bron plans on making a decision on or before the 4th of July. Whatever The King decides, there is one thing’s for certain, there WILL be plenty fireworks going off in the NBA.
LeBron James may be the most influential athlete this sport (or possibly any sport) has ever seen. Like a true king, he waves his scepter and moves get made. People get traded, coaches get fired, and new contracts get signed. Will King James find another kingdom to call home or will he continue to sit on his iron throne in the ‘Land? I guess we’ll see. The last two times LeBron changed teams, he ended up winning rings. Will history repeat itself?
LeBron will make his “Decision 3.0” very soon and when he does, the NBA landscape will experience yet another seismic shift that will be felt far and wide and in every corner in the NBA realm. Whether or not the landscape tilts in the King’s favor remains to be seen.