With LeBron James’ departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers appearing inevitable, the question surrounding his 2018 free agency will revolve heavily around whether it’s about money and leisure or winning? If winning is the case, here are James’ three best options.
Regardless of the dynasty it appears Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors are dawning, LeBron James remains the best player on the planet. This is a player who can single-handedly lead a team to a deep postseason run based on his unstoppable two-way play. But with every passing day, his second departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers becomes more and more inevitable.
With his 2018 free agency looming and his sidekick Kyrie Irving requesting a trade out of Cleveland, it appears as if the 2017-18 NBA year will be James’ last with the Cavs.
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So when free agency hits, the big question surrounding his decision will be whether it’s about money and leisure or winning.
James could very easily head out West to play for the youthful Los Angeles Lakers, where he could earn a number of endorsement deals. Or he could opt to pursue another championship, in hopes of catching Michael Jordan’s six rings.
If winning is the approach James takes, here are his three best options when he hits free agency — assuming Cleveland is out of consideration.
3) Portland Trail Blazers
If James opts to join a team with ever improving young talent, then the Portland Trail Blazers would make sense.
While they struggled to work off their successful 2016-17 season, the Blazers possess a youthful and promising trio.
With a star studded backcourt featuring All-Star point guard Damian Lillard (27) and C.J. McCollum (25), combined with center Jusuf Nurkic (22) — who averaged a double-double in his time with Portland last season — the Blazers have established a well-rounded foundation with upside. If James throws himself into that mix, their young core’s growth as a whole would endure an immense jumpstart.
With a starting five of Lillard, McCollum, Maurice Harkless, James and Nurkic, the Blazers would own a formidable and well-balanced unit.
With a backcourt in its prime, an improving center, a two-way, “three and d” player as well as the game’s most unstoppable force, the Blazers could very well compete for an NBA title. Of course, they’d have to get through the Warriors if they’re going to do so — but no team in the Western Conference, as currently assembled, has any real shot at knocking them off. Could a team with an elite backcourt and the game’s best player give the Warriors a run for its money? Most definitely.
2) Boston Celtics
The other option that gives James a chance at a championship is joining an already established club. If their fanbase and management can put the rivalry in the rearview mirror, the Boston Celtics make all the sense in the world.
After making it to the Eastern Conference Finals — but losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers — the Celtics went out and signed the big fish on the free agent market in Gordon Hayward. With the scoring presence and underrated defensive play he provides, Hayward makes Boston a formidable unit that could potentially win 60 games in a weak Eastern Conference. But chances are that come playoff time, they still won’t have enough firepower to knock off the Cavs. So how about adding the Cavs most lethal and irreplaceable piece?
Over the duration of his 14-year career, James has never been a lovable character in beantown — to say the least. Whether it was his first stint with the Cavs, his four-year vacation to South Beach with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, or even his present day tenure in Cleveland, James has been the enemy to Boston. The controversial 2010 Conference finals matchup, the back-to-back years when he was in Miami or even last season are four occurrences where James attempted to crush the city of Boston’s hearts — which he was successful in doing three out of four times.
But if James, the fans and management can trash the past, they’d be an incredible fit for the future.
With Isaiah Thomas hitting free agency next summer and Al Horford now 31 years of age, the Celtics window for success is closing — which was a key reason for them prioritizing inking Hayward, who’s 27.
But if James hops aboard, things become very interesting. Even if it means convincing Thomas to take a shorter deal for the betterment of the foreseeable future and/or dealing away players such as Jae Crowder or Marcus Morris for cap space, the Celtics would have to pounce on the opportunity to add James.
If James heads to Boston, the conference would be signed, sealed and delivered. The question, of course, would be can a big four of James, Thomas, Hayward and Horford matchup with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Durant? Look at it this way: James took the Warriors to five games. Imagine if he had a big four around him instead of a big three?
1) Houston Rockets
After the Cavs, the Houston Rockets have been the pulse of the NBA offseason. Pulling off the blockbuster trade of the summer for Chris Paul and targeting Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, the Rockets have shown they’re all-in on making a run at the championship this year and the next few to come.
They’ve also quietly added defensive minded forwards P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute — who have also seen an improvement in their efficiency from beyond the arc. Those two, thrown into the mix with James Harden, Paul, Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, makes for a very deep Rockets team. But while it’s the redundant question, it must be asked: Can this team overthrow the Warriors?
While the addition of Paul gives the Rockets arguably the best backcourt in the NBA, it may take a year for the two to blend. Paul has never played with a ball dominate, alpha dog guard like Harden. Playing alongside a player of his caliber — who is one of, if not the best scorer in the association — will be a major adjustment for Paul, who likes to run the show at the point and facilitate. But even if they do click from the get-go, Paul and Harden are not going to be able to lead this Rockets team to the Finals; they simply do not have the offensive firepower to do so. But adding another true star would — and James is as big as they come.
Picture a big three consisting of James, Harden and Paul. Three superstar players who could come together to potentially form the greatest big three the league has ever seen. Yes, even better than James’ previous trios.
Harden in his prime. Paul, who’s still one of the best guards in the NBA. Then, James — the greatest player of the century. Those three in the same starting unit, along with Capela and what’s a respectable bench would make the Rockets the biggest threat the Warriors will ever face in their soon-to-be dynasty.
That’s a team who could run up and down the court on teams at will, while simultaneously being able to dominate in the halfcourt set.
In order to facilitate the formulation of the trio, the Rockets would have to clear cap space. Whether that’s using a pick to move Anderson, Gordon or whoever else, the Rockets would have no choice, as the chance to add James is too good to pass up on.
The NBA has become a star-driven league, as the assembling of the Warriors has shown. Houston has two stars in place now but adding James gives them a very good chance at not just beating the Warriors, but winning the Finals.
By heading to Houston to team up with Paul (assuming they clear the cap space to re-sign him) and Harden, James gives himself the best chance to win his fourth NBA title and perhaps more in the years to come.