Opinion: Where will LeBron James end up in free agency?

By Josh Landsburg, Sports Talk Philly staff 

The NBA Finals are officially over, and now we can start the summer of LeBron James.  Where LeBron will go is just as intriguing now as it was four years ago and eight years ago, maybe even more so, because at 33 and going into his 16th year in the league, he is “ring chasing” at this point in his career.  It’s no longer about playing with his friends in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, or about getting one championship in Cleveland, it’s about how many rings he can get in the next 3-5 years.  

Of course, it’s not all about that, though, which I will illustrate in this article.  There are other factors to consider, which LeBron alluded to in his postgame press conference after the Game Four loss, including his wife and his kids well being.  There’s life after basketball. There are a few factors to consider for sure, but I still believe winning rings and his legacy is what he’s most concerned about. If that’s the case, then I think Philly has about as good a chance of any team out there to get him.

Teams That LeBron Could Play for and Why

Look, I’m somewhat biased on this one.  I want LeBron to come to Philly as a fan of the team, but I have to look at it objectively as well.  First of all, let’s assume he’s not going to Golden State, (would look even worse for him than Kevin Durant), or to Boston (doesn’t want to play with Kyrie Irving after he left him), and now we can examine several teams that would make sense for him to go to in terms of winning, legacy, and life after basketball.

Let’s start out West.  The originally most rumored team he would go to was the Lakers, and he would join up with Paul George, whom also wants to go there.  There are a couple reasons this makes sense. In terms of a legacy team, the Lakers are the number one legacy team in the NBA with the most championships at 17 and with several players in the top 10 of All-Time having played for them in Shaq, Kobe, Kareem, Magic, Wilt, the list goes on.  The other reasons include his wife is rumored to having said that she likes it out there, they have two houses out there, and he could get into more of the entertainment industry with movies and whatnot and increase his brand. It makes sense for all those reasons, but from strictly a basketball standpoint and chasing rings, it makes no sense for LeBron.  They would have to get rid of a couple of their young players and they’re simply not ready to win and he would not be able to compete with Golden State nor Houston with that team.

The next team everyone is talking about is the Houston Rockets.  They came within one Chris Paul injury of making it to the NBA Finals this year and possibly winning it.  They were up 3-2 on Golden State when Paul got hurt. I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about that.  I could write a whole article just on Houston, but I’m going to try and keep it to a minimum for each scenario.  They have a great GM who could figure some stuff out, but it gets complicated. Could they even play together? Chris Paul wants a max contract and so does LeBron, how do you make that work?  Would they be willing to part ways with a young, very talented Clint Capela? These are all question marks, but yes, the trio of Paul, Harden, and LeBron is intriguing, and I think they would have a good shot of going all the way, but does he want to go to Houston?  

Next, there is the next best team, which is San Antonio.  If Pop and Kawhi can figure it out, and he’s healthy then the trio of LeBron, Aldridge, and Leonard with the best coach in the NBA could probably figure out a way to get it done.  Even though LeBron would love playing for an iconic coach in Pop, which he has never had throughout his career, does he really want to go to San Antonio?

Last, but not least, a team that nobody is really talking about is the New Orleans Pelicans.  LeBron has never played with a dominant center, and Anthony Davis is the best in the league, and they could get Boogie back and you have Jrue Holiday, and that would be a loaded team.  Once again, New Orleans is a nice city, but not a legacy city, and does LeBron really want to go there? So, there are pros and cons to each of those, and now let’s go to the East.

Stay with Cleveland—get Chris Paul in a sign and trade and you’re going back to the Finals again and maybe winning it.  Go to Washington—play with John Wall and Bradley Beal and you’re contending in the East. Go to New York—bright lights, big city, good for marketing, and you get to play with Porzingis and you’re probably contending in the East. Go to Milwaukee—Play with “The Greek Freak,” enough said. Go to Toronto—play with the two All-Star guards there and you’re competing for a championship. I don’t see any of these happening though, outside of maybe Cleveland because it’s close to his hometown and he may want his kids to play at his high school alma mater, that’s the only reason why. Also, he’ll think that he took a bunch of scrubs basically to the Finals this year that if they add a young rookie in the draft or trade that pick for someone they could compete again next year. Oh, and maybe a wildcard is New York, not because he could win there, but because of all of the marketing that the number one sports market would bring to him.  So, this leaves me with Philly.

Why LeBron Should Come to Philly

Philly makes sense for so many reasons.  LeBron James would join two young emerging superstars if he became a 76er. Similar to the Anthony Davis comment, LeBron has never played with a dominant center before, and Embiid is probably the second best center in the league after Davis.  Simmons is like a LeBron in his early days and he would take the pressure off of LeBron bringing the ball up the court. If the Sixers could get LeBron and George, they would be in tremendous shape. It could be a similar situation that happened with Miami where Wade recruited LeBron and Bosh and they joined forces.  LeBron could call George up and say, “Hey, I’m going to Philly, let’s join forces.”

Technically that’s collusion, but the league has no way of knowing that this is going on.  Imagine this starting lineup, assuming they could resign J.J. to a veteran’s minimum, which he may take to win a championship.  Simmons at the point, then J.J. at the two guard spot, Paul George at the three spot, LeBron at the four, and Embiid at center. That would be a team that could for sure get out of the East and compete with the Warriors.  The Warriors have four superstars on their team, and now so would the Sixers. Let’s think of some other factors. Philly is a legacy city. Think of the players that have played and won in this town: Wilt, Dr. J, Moses, Iverson, Barkley, the list goes on.  LeBron would want to cement his name in that legacy. Also, I think Philly gives LeBron the best chance to win, specifically because they’re in the East and they’re young, so it not only gives him a chance to win next year but for years to come.

Paul George or Kawhi Leonard?

In my opinion, there are really only two players outside of LeBron that I would target if I were the Sixers.  This is a tough call, but I’m going to have to go with Paul George, mainly because they won’t have to give up too much to get him.  George is a free agent, and Leonard is not. To get Leonard it will probably take some sort of package of trading Dario, Covington, Fultz, and a draft pick.

Do the Sixers really want to give all that up? They could sign George and LeBron and still keep most of their role players. They probably won’t be able to keep everyone, like Marco and Ilya, but they could keep Dario who is still under his rookie contract, Covington, whom they have locked up, and Fultz who is still on a rookie contract.  

It may be hard to keep J.J., but if he would accept a major pay cut, it is still possible. George is a “three and D” guy, and he is unselfish, and he would fit in perfectly with this team. Also, he comes with fewer question marks than Kawhi who didn’t play at all last year due to “injury.”

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