Coming up short in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in his career (2nd consecutive), LeBron James will now enter free agency. Rumors and speculations have surrounded King James since the regular season with his name linked to various organizations around the league.
The free agency conquest is officially on for the NBA's biggest name. After a tough game 4 loss to complete the sweep, the Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves on the short end of a finals appearance yet again. James finds himself with now six losses in the NBA Finals attached to his legacy due to a fairly lackluster effort from the Cavs defense; accepting defeat perhaps sooner than the Cleveland crowd hoped in Game 4.
LeBron James finished the NBA Finals, averaging 34.0 points with 8.5 rebounds and 10.0 assists per game. James also finished the series shooting 52.7% from the field and 33.3% from 3-point territory. As a matter a fact LeBron's 136 points were 33.6% of Cleveland's 404 total points scored through the series' 4 games. To give an idea of how valuable that was, Finals MVP Kevin Durant (115 pts) scored 24.7% of Golden States points in the series.
However unlike last season, the Cavaliers don't have the assurance of LeBron James for the next season. Considering the supporting cast and their performance, many have been led to believe that James is out. LeBron indeed showed signs of fatigue due to the heavy load on his shoulders. Loads such as his teams next highest scorer not even reaching a 20-point average, in Kevin Love. Along with the fact that James and Love were the only 2 Cavaliers to reach a double-digit point average. Golden State had three in... yup you guessed it, Durant, Thompson, and Curry.
At 33 years of age, LeBron James is left in an interesting position as he heads into free agency. There's no question that his legacy is cemented in Cleveland's history books with his 2016 Finals Title delivery. So there's no debate in whether or not James owes Cleveland a thing. Following a successful 4-year stint in Miami, James delivered. Now its time for James to decide whether or not his faith lies in the hands of Cleveland's front office. A team in desperate need of help if they hope to make another deep playoff run with upcoming teams like Boston and Philadelphia on the rise.
According to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, there are seven teams in which LeBron James will speak with this off-season. Those teams being the Cavaliers, Warriors, 76ers, Celtics, Rockets, Lakers, and Heat. Now let's take an in depth look of the pro's and con's for James within each organization.
1.) Cleveland Cavaliers:
Pros: Coming off their fourth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals, the Cavs are certainly to remain an option for James in free agency. The Cavaliers own the rights to the 8th overall selection in this seasons draft along with several experienced veterans. Let's not also forget that teaming up with the leagues and generations best player is a pretty enticing opportunity for any big name free agent on the market.
Cons: The journey just to get to the finals took a toll on James physically and it didn't get better. There's no question that LeBron left it all on the court, however the assistance via his supporting cast did not improve in any way, shape, or form. Even a Boston Celtics team missing their two best players took Cleveland to seven games. Philadelphia also showed they're on the rise to contend in the East, and sooner than expected.
2.) Golden State Warriors:
Pros: This is pretty obvious. The Golden State Warriors as is are as unbeatable of a team as you'll find and they've proven it. Since the signing of Kevin Durant, the Warriors have lost just 1 NBA Finals game and have won back-to-back titles. Imagine adding the generations greatest player to the mix. Yeah an undefeated season wouldn't sound far fetched in Steve Kerr's squad after all.
Cons: Again this is just as obvious with such a decision tarnishing the 14-year legacy of LeBron James. This would not only damage the legacy of James but the entire NBA as a whole. Players and teams are already disgusted and furious with the decision by Kevin Durant to join forces with the team he failed to defeat. One can only imagine the amplification of that fury if LeBron James decided to take a duplicated approach.
3.) Philadelphia 76ers:
Pros: One of the youngest and undoubtedly talented teams on the rise are certainly in contention for James as they were for a title run this season. With an average team age of just 25.7 years, the ceiling is very high and the future is very bright for Philadelphia. With the addition of an experienced LeBron James, Philly's young core can both receive mentor ship and talent increase to their team.
Cons: Philadelphia's veteran leader, J.J. Reddick is also a free agent and coming off a career year. Reddick averaged 18.2 throughout the playoffs while shooting 85.7% from the line. That's a major piece who led to the success in 2017-18 with no guarantee in a return. Redick made $20M last season as a 33-year old so its unknown where he will end up in the market. There is also a concern for coaching and more specifically questionable calls by Brett Brown. Decisions such as misusing his young core in big situations and failing to communicate with players via timeouts which weren't properly utilized. Coaching can be both very attractive and unattractive to a player and their decision process.
4.) Boston Celtics
Pros: Another very young team who came just a game away from the NBA Finals and without both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Not to mention the absence of Daniel Theis and a not 100 percent Marcus Smart, the C's run was a success. It was also an indication to Boston fans and the league of what Brad Stevens and his squad has in-store for the future. One can only imagine of how far a fully healthy Celtics team would've gone in this years playoffs. Along with Danny Ainge in the front office, the limit is indescribable for the Boston Celtics.
Cons: The animosity that lies between Celtics PG, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James is both well known and remains existent. Irving wasn't tolerant of playing under the shadow of James and requested the trade that made him a Celtic to change that. It's both possible but unlikely that whatever abhorrence that remains in between the two, will fail to impact this decision.
5.) Houston Rockets
Pros: The Western Conference's number 1 seed who also came just a win short of an NBA Finals appearance in a 65-win season. Keep in mind that Houston also dealt with health issues, missing Chris Paul for games 6 and 7 of the series. Add LeBron James to the mix and that horrific sight that was Houston's 3-point shooting is automatically erased from the picture. The Rockets are also led by one of the leagues highly regarded head coaches, Mike D'Antoni.
Cons: Houston's bench remains a concern with indefinite need for improvement. The Rockets ranked 25th in scoring with 29.5 points per game. That's better then just the Bucks, Trailblazers, Pelicans, Thunder, and Timberwolves. The bench's offensive and defensive efficiency also ranks 27th at 30.9 and -8.0. It's also unknown how James will operate with MVP candidate,James Harden on the floor.
6.) Los Angeles Lakers
Pros: Another one of the youngest teams that the NBA has to offer. The Lakers roster contains an age average of 24.9 years which is youngest among all teams on this list. While a 47-loss season may not be the most enticing, the location itself remains an attraction. Los Angeles and the Lakers historic tradition is attractive to big name free agents. For example, California native Paul George who's been linked to the Lakers since last season due to his interest. James can certainly attract other big names to play alongside him in the bright lights within the Staples Center.
Cons: Unlike the 76ers, the Lakers don't contain the talent and depth for a bright foreseeable future. There's the ongoing dramatic phenomenon that is Lavar Ball. Something that can be anything but attractive for LeBron James. Recent reports indicate that anyone on the Lakers squad is available for trade, so it's unknown what Magic Johnson has in mind. Don't forget that the Rockets and Warriors are also in the West, two major contenders that James would have to surpass.
7.) Miami Heat
Pros: The Wild Card location among the 7. The Miami Heat crowd would certainly welcome back a former team member in open arms. The Heat finished 6th in a 44-38 season but were unfortunately eliminated in the 1st round via the 76ers. There were some bright sides to Miami's season. Hassan Whiteside remained solid yet again, averaging 14.0 points and 11.4 rebounds. Veteran PG, Goran Dragic added NBA All-Star to his resume, finishing the year averaging 17.3 points while shooting 45% from the field.
Cons: There is a lot of work for Miami's front office to do in order to build a strong enough team around LeBron James in order to contend for a title. Considering the team's cast, that'll be tough to do through trades so free agency would be Miami's only way to go.
My Prediction: I've got an outlier penned down as my predicted landing spot in the LeBron James sweepstakes. I predict LeBron James signs with the San Antonio Spurs. An organization who's dynasty, system, and tradition is unmatched by any team in basketball today. Just ask yourself, when was the last time the Spurs weren't in conversation for the NBA Finals? We saw first hand how they dominated the Golden State Warriors (with Kevin Durant) in Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Playoffs. San Antonio finished the first quarter up 14 points. They would also find themselves up 23 as many recall when the notable and questionable injury of Kawhi Leonard would take place in the 3rd quarter. Leonard finished with 26 points through his 3 quarters on the floor. Many may argue that the conflict between the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard is concerning, which is fair. Yet with San Antionio being among the leagues most classiest organizations, faith must remain in the two parties resolving whatever conflict lies in between. Now back to LeBron. Let's also consider the performance of LaMarcus Aldridge in round 1, most notably in Game 5. Aldirdge played his heart out in a career night where he finished with 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists. Despite being down 3-1 and verging the final minutes of your season, Aldridge played every minute with 100 percent. That's undoubtedly notable. The Spurs also have one of the leagues best benches and we know how important a supporting cast is for LeBron. San Antionio's bench averaged 41.6 points (4th in NBA) with 9.4 assists (3rd in NBA). Not to mention the fact that San Antonio is home to the leagues best all-time head coach in Gregg Popovich. A head coach who's said to be very close to LeBron James as well.
While nobody truly has any clue where LeBron will land, the journey and anticipation of a decision will certainly be one to keep an eye on.