In what seems to be a summer event that happens every four years, Lebron James will once again be the center of an NBA free agent class.
The four time MVP and three time champion will become a free agent on July 1 unless he picks up his $35.6 million player option with the Cleveland Cavaliers before June 29.
The rumors have been swirling since last summer as to where he could end up for the 2018-2019 season and beyond and those rumors kicked up a notch once the Cavaliers were swept in the NBA Finals last Friday by the Golden State Warriors.
I’m going to dive into the potential options for James and at end give you my rankings of those options.
Golden State Warriors
They’ve been mentioned a potential destination for Lebron but I would give them the lowest percentage at this point.
The two time defending NBA champions do not need the services of Lebron James but they have been mentioned by the national media as one of the teams he would sit down with this summer when he goes on a potential free agency tour.
If the Warriors wanted to acquire Lebron James, he would have to exercise his player option and then the Warriors could complete a trade that would likely involve All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
A trio of Lebron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant would be the most dangerous group of players formed in NBA history.
Although the Warriors would be losing Thompson and Green who have been a key part of their elite defense during the last four years, they would be picking up the best basketball player in the history of the game to join two of the top five players in today’s NBA.
It’s a long shot but don’t be surprised if James takes a meeting with what has been his arch rival the last four seasons.
Another one of the teams that seem to have a long shot to get his services but could also get a sit down meeting with him according to people in the national media.
The Celtics have a young core of talent that pushed Lebron and the Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference while not having All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. They also have one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens.
They currently are $6 million over the salary cap and in able to acquire Lebron James, they would have to unload some of their big contracts unless James were to opt in and ask Cleveland to trade him to Boston.
Gordon Hayward is slated to make $31.2 million in 2018-19, Al Horford is slated to make $28.9 million and former Cavalier Kyrie Irving is entering his final year under contract at $20.1 million.
It’s unlikely Boston would break up their current group when without Lebron could be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference with Irving and Hayward returning from injury.
The young 76ers group led by Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid exploded last season to a 52 win season only to be defeated by Boston in the second round of the playoffs.
They could add another superstar to the mix this summer whether it’s through a trade where they have plenty of assets to acquire potentially Kawhi Leonard from San Antonio or they have the cap space to sign Lebron James or Paul George.
The 76ers will have to renounce the rights to unrestricted free agents J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova that will clear $44 million off their salary cap to give them $30.5 million in cap space to spend.
With the salary cap projected to be $101 million for the 2018-2019 season, Philadelphia would still need to clear about $4.8 million to have a max slot to sign Lebron James. They would have just enough to sign Paul George whose max slot begins at $30.3 million due to the collective bargaining agreement.
However, the 76ers could be in a scenario to get two superstars having the ability to trade for one superstar by moving Robert Covington ($10.4 million), Jerryd Bayless ($8.57 million), 2017 #1 pick Markelle Fultz ($8.33 million) and some of their draft picks they have including the #10 pick in this year’s draft.
They’ll be one of the most interesting teams to watch this summer.
A lot of people have thrown out the idea of Lebron James joining James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston. It’s possible but it’s going to be difficult for Houston to do it.
Of course a lot of people didn’t expect a year ago at this time that Chris Paul was going to end up with Houston until he opted in his contract with the Clippers and was traded there in late June. The Rockets won 65 games and had the Warriors on the ropes but couldn’t close them out as they lost in Game 7.
Now their first order of business this offseason is to sign Chris Paul to a new contract. Paul is expecting to get the max, five year contract from the Rockets worth $205.1 million dollars.
The Rockets, much like the Warriors and Celtics would have to work out a trade with Cleveland if Lebron were to opt in and ask to be traded to Houston much like Chris Paul did.
Houston can offer the Cavs a package that would include Ryan Anderson who has two years and $41.6 million left on his deal and Eric Gordon who has two years and $27.5 million left on his deal.
In order for the salaries to match to make a trade work under the league rules , Houston would have to include either of their young prospects Chinanu Onuaku or Zhou Qi who are both making around $1.4 million for the 2018 season.
Los Angeles Lakers
Now other than staying in Cleveland, this is the most likely destination this summer for Lebron James in my opinion.
He has two homes in the area of Los Angeles and his production company is based in Los Angeles already. It’s also been rumored that his wife has made it clear she prefers Los Angeles or Cleveland where Lebron would play basketball and family is and will be a big part of his free agency decision.
The Lakers, much like the 76ers could add two superstars this summer but could add them in free agency alone. Once they renounce the rights to all of their free agents (Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Channing Frye, Julius Randle, Isaiah Thomas, etc), they could be looking at $61 million dollars in cap space according to Spotrac.com
The two free agents they have been linked to the most are Lebron James and Paul George and the buzz is those two would like to team up, much like when Lebron was a free agent in 2010 and the buzz was he wanted to team up with Chris Bosh and the two eventually did in Miami alongside Dwyane Wade.
The Lakers could add more cap space to their disposal if they can find someone to trade Luol Deng to as he has two years and $36.8 million left on his contract but that’ll be hard to do as Deng isn’t the player he used to be.
The Lakers also have a group of young players that they could package together in a trade to potentially acquire George or James should either guy choose to opt in and ask to be traded to Los Angeles.
If Cleveland granted James that request and took that package from the Lakers and wanted to jump start a rebuild, they could acquire Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and perhaps a future draft pick.
Now if Cleveland were to acquire Lonzo Ball in a trade, hopefully they’d have a team lined up to take him on for a draft pick or another young player. While Ball is a talented point guard, the antics displayed by his family most notably his father Lavar aren’t worth dealing with if you’re an NBA franchise in my opinion.
While the question remains as to what Cleveland will do to convince Lebron James to stay put, the biggest thing they have going for them is that this is home to him and his family.
Lebron James returned home to Cleveland four years and vowed to bring a championship to “The Land” and he delivered on that promise in 2016. It also helps that the team’s practice facility is within driving distance to James’ mansion in Bath Township, 20 minutes from Independence where Cleveland Clinic Courts resides.
It’s unknown how strong the relationship is between James and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is despite Lebron telling ESPN they have a “good working relationship” and Gilbert telling Business Insider that he sees James as a “partner” and not one of his employees.
The Cavaliers don’t have the flexibility in cap space and lack the draft picks some of the other contenders have but there’s potential moves that can be made to put talent around Lebron.
Cleveland is likely going to shop All-Star forward Kevin Love and the eighth overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft to see what they could get in a potential trade including for Paul George who Cleveland almost got last year around the NBA Draft before Indiana moved him to Oklahoma City.
J.R. Smith, George Hill and Kyle Korver are essentially entering their final years under contract as the second year is non-guaranteed which could make them easier to move in potential trades. Young prospects like Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic could also be attractive trade pieces for other teams.
Jack McCurry’s odds for Lebron James destination in 2018
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Houston Rockets
- Boston Celtics
- Golden State Warriors