Well, this didn’t take long.
Mere hours after LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 3 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, falling into a death sentence of a 3-0 hole, word around the NBA is that the four-time MVP might leave his hometown franchise when he hits free agency in 2018.
Nothing is certain, or even close to certain, but The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor is hearing that it’s possible, and that LeBron could end up with the Los Angeles Clippers or Los Angeles Lakers:
LeBron James and the Cavaliers are on the ropes in the Finals once again, but this time the conversation happening in NBA circles isn’t about whether or not the Cavs can come back in the series. It’s about whether or not LeBron will come back to Cleveland after he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018. James has left his hometown once before, and after delivering a title, he could again. Rumblings across the league suggest that LeBron will consider taking his talents out west, as Bill Simmons and I discussed this week on The Bill Simmons Podcast. The LeBron noise echoes what The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote last year: With a Finals victory for Cleveland secure, James could get to “run off with his buddies again somewhere warm.”
This is all a pipe dream, and O’Connor pretty much makes that clear. He goes on to note the plausibility of each scenario, between the Clippers and Lakers, and even outlines the problems facing the Cavaliers. It’s a solid read, even when factoring in the inherent whimsy attached to the scenario.
Still, LeBron has left Cleveland once before, and like O’Connor pointed out, Woj had this scenario in the works even when the King was fresh off the Cavaliers’ first-ever title. Cleveland has no hope of drastically upgrading its roster; even the acquisition of a Jimmy Butler or Paul George comes at the expense of Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving, diminishing whatever return the Cavaliers finagle. With the Warriors set up to own the NBA for at least the next half-decade, next summer provides LeBron with the opportunity to recalibrate his attempt at knocking them off, or at the very least to play somewhere sunny.
If it’s winning LeBron craves, though, teaming up with his Banana Boat Family isn’t the best end result. Sure, there would be some sense in joining Chris Paul…but only if he signs with the San Antonio Spurs this summer. That core of James, Paul and Kawhi Leonard, with perhaps Danny Green, an improving Davis Bertans and Dejounte Murray gets you somewhere, attracting all the ring-chasers and ensuring the Warriors have a true rival for at least a few years.
Straight up playing with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Paul doesn’t do the trick. That core, while fun, would be too old, and woefully short on defense.
Of course, this is all conjecture. Really, it’s something less than that. We have an entire year before LeBron can explore free agency, and even when he gets there, it’s tough to imagine him suiting up for his third squad unless the perfect team, with the perfect roster, enjoying the perfectly stretched window, presents itself.