After falling in the NBA Finals, LeBron James revealed how he suffered a serious hand injury after Game 1, what factors will go into his free agency decision this summer and why he came back to Cleveland.
USA TODAY Sports
CLEVELAND – Should he stay or should he go? Will he stay or will he go?
Those questions will be discussed over and over until LeBron James decides in early July where he wants to play next season.
James has until June 29 to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers – which he is expected to do – and become a free agent.
Cleveland can offer James a five-year deal worth nearly $209 million, and other teams can offer him a four-year deal worth about $150 million. There’s no guarantee James signs a deal that long. He has signed short-term deals since returning to the Cavs and may do so again to keep options open.
Another consideration: There are three teams with realistic salary cap space to sign James in free agency: Cleveland, Philadelphia and Los Angeles Lakers. Any other team will have to commit extreme salary cap gymnastics or convince the Cavaliers a sign-and-trade is worth their while.
Here are some teams that James may consider:
In the moment – given the Cavs were just swept by Golden State in the Finals – it’s hard to see James returning. For the second consecutive season, Cleveland lost to Golden State, winning just one of nine Finals games.
Cleveland has a roster good enough to win the East but not good enough to win a title. If the Cavs want to keep James, they need to improve the roster, and that won’t be easy considering their salary cap situation. They are over the cap and will be deep into the tax if they re-sign James.
But they do have the No. 8 pick in the draft and could trade the pick and other assets for an All-Star. If James stays, Cavs GM Koby Altman needs to make significant roster improvements at all spots on the court: guard, wing, interior.
Beyond that, James will consider whether his relationship with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is strong enough to continue their partnership.
The Sixers are an attractive option. They have a talented young core with All-Star center Joel Embiid, All-Star in the making Ben Simmons and Dario Saric. They have cap space and assets, and Coach Brett Brown, who James has praised in the past. Add James to that starting lineup with Robert Covington, and the Sixers have a team that can compete for the Eastern Conference title.
James and Ben Simmons also share the same agent, Klutch Sports’ Rich Paul.
Philadelphia is a team of the present and future.
The Sixers need to find a new general manager after parting ways with Bryan Colangelo, who got caught up in an embarrassing Twitter scandal, and they could look to former Cleveland general manager David Griffin.
Does James want to play with a younger team? That’s a fair question, considering how much he talked the past few days about playing alongside players with high basketball IQs.
Los Angeles Lakers
Behold the most compelling landing spot of them all. In terms of market appeal, none of these teams can compete with Laker Land. But if LeBron is going to partner with Magic Johnson to turn this storied franchise around, he simply must find a way to bring two fellow All-Stars with him.
Is that Paul George, the Palmdale, Calif. native who is also a free agent and who is widely known to have serious interest in playing for his home region’s team? Is it Kawhi Leonard, whose future with San Antonio remains unknown and who could be traded this summer? Is it Paul, who is widely believed to be committed to re-signing in Houston but who has the freedom to join James with the Lakers?
James can’t head West unless he truly knows that his roster is good enough to compete with the Warriors. And that, more than anything, is why the superstar shuffle board will loom so large.
So here’s the key question when it comes to the Rockets and their place in this race: Is there any way that Chris Paul takes anything less than the five-year, $205 million deal that he has planned on landing since forcing his way out of Los Angeles a year ago? The Rockets will likely need that kind of concession if they’re going to somehow find a way of landing James, and only he knows if the prospect of playing with James is enticing enough to leave money on the table.
The Rockets possibility is even more appealing after Houston pushed the Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference finals, and James is known to have serious interest in playing with Paul (and vice versa, of course). But this would require some extremely heavy lifting from general manager Daryl Morey, whose team would likely have to shed the contracts of Ryan Anderson (two years, $41 million combined remaining) and Eric Gordon (two years, $27 million combined) to make room for James. If James is willing to be the one who concedes, he could opt in for next season on his current contract (approximately $35 million) and force a trade, a la Paul last summer, as a way of making Morey’s job easier.
The Knicks are a longshot, but James has a soft spot for the Knicks mystique and Madison Square Garden. James could go to the Knicks and revive a woebegone franchise that hasn’t won a title since 1973.
New York hired David Fizdale as its coach, and Fizdale has a strong relationship with James going back to when James played for Miami and Fizdale was an assistant. James has been supportive of Fizdale who was fired by Memphis this season.
The big problem: the Knicks’ roster and owner James Dolan.
It would surprise no one if Miami president Pat Riley wanted James back with the Heat. But does James have interest in Miami 2.0? It seems unlikely but don’t discount the power of Riley’s persuasion to at least have a discussion with James.
When James spoke during the Finals about how basketball IQ mattered so much in his thought process, he may as well have mentioned the Spurs by name. Coach Gregg Popovich is known to be one of his favorites, and the reality is that – from an Xs and Os standpoint – the Spurs are as good a destination as any. Still, this potential landing spot is seen as unlikely when it comes to these candidates.