Decision Time Again: What Jersey Will LeBron James Be Wearing Next Year?
Just four summers later, we may have another "Decision" coming from LeBron James. We're halfway there, as today he announced he is opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat.
As the league's most popular (and sometimes polarizing) player, we at numberFire have discussed James at length recently. He's definitely a clutch player, and he could become the next legend of the NBA.
Then the NBA Finals arrived; James didn't fail, he knew his strengths and did all he could, and, to some, was even considered a Finals MVP candidate. But he ultimately couldn't help the Heat to a three-peat.
And now with LeBron James looking at a worse supporting cast than he had in 2007 Finals run, all eyes will be glued on Miami to see what he does next.
Did James opt out to renegotiate new contracts so another superstar (Carmelo Anthony?) could bring their talents to South Beach, or did he do it to find a new spot in the league?
A lot of teams LeBron James could go to are in the Western Conference, but is he willing to go to that juggernaut of a conference? It's slim pickings in the East, but further domination could come if he stayed within the conference.
Nonetheless, if he does leave Miami, below are some of the possible destinations the King could be courted to for greener pastures.
Teams with a Realistic Shot
Los Angeles Clippers
Let's take one of the best point guards (Chris Paul), move some dead weight of contracts (DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford), and poof - you have a great recipe to nab LeBron James.
Our nERD rankings placed CP3 as the fourth-best player in the league this past year (14.7 nERD), and the top point guard in the NBA. Forget the bloated payroll right now, as the Clippers could come out of the Sterling scandal as winners of the LeBron Lottery; it would be a great story. James would be surrounded by quality, young shooters, and he'd be paired with one of the flashiest players in the league in Blake Griffin (12.6 nERD score, eighth-best among all players). It was James' goal to pull the best players together when he went to Miami; why couldn't he do it again in LA?
Of any team that has been rumored to nab LeBron James, Houston could be the most intriguing choice. However, they'd have to get very creative with their salary cap and/or be prepared to for hefty penalties for not only going over the salary cap (rumored to be around $63.4 million this year), but the luxury tax threshold as well.
With Dwight Howard, James Harden, Omar Asik, and Jeremy Lin taking up 90% of the cap, creative moves would be very necessary. Despite the payroll, the hypothetical pitch Houston can give includes that Harden was the fifth-best player according to our nERD score, right up there with CP3. Howard may have not been the best true center in the league (6.0 nERD), but he did still put up 18.3 points and pull down 12.2 rebounds per game. James would give Houston a starting rotation that could easily be the best in the league if everyone were to play up to their potential.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers most certainly have the cap space as only Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are on the payroll. Its doubtful they'll keep Pau Gasol, so without him, you're looking at a team that only has $35 million for their payroll. If Nick Young takes his player option, it only jumps to $36.5 million. If you pair James with an aging, although rested, Bryant, the Lakers would be the talk of the NBA once again. Add Melo to the mix, and you get a Team USA vibe. If James takes his talents west, another championship or two isn't hard to fathom with the right pieces.
Would James head back to his old team already? Would fans take him back? Cleveland finally has some young pieces and Kyrie Irving, when healthy, can be a solid point guard in the league - why not pair with him? The $30 million-plus in cap space would afford the Cavs to sign LeBron and bring back Luol Deng or get a cheap big or two for the team. Jarrett Jack could be a trade piece as well, so he could net the Cavs some nice roster pieces. And if the Cavs could figure out how to get Kevin Love from Minnesota, that could entice James even more. It would be full circle for James quicker than anyone expected, but if the commitment from Cleveland is finally there, it has to be within the realm of possibilities.
You have one of the best (and slightly underrated) point guards in Rajon Rondo. LeBron could follow in Larry Legend's footsteps by bringing another title to Boston. But after hating him for so many seasons, could the Celtic faithful be willing to take in LeBron? There also are no legitimate post threats on the team right now. James could upgrade to a team with a better point guard, but unless Chris Bosh came with him, he'd be lost with no help in the paint.
Need a great all-around young player for King James? Michael Carter-Williams is ready to blossom into a star after posting 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.9 steals per game in his rookie season. Young post threat? Nerlens Noel needs a lot of time to develop yet, but LeBron could really accelerate his growth. Sidekick scorer? Thaddeus Young may not be a star, but if he didn't have to be "the man" on a team, he might really shine. In February, Young was averaging 23 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists plus a whopping 3.8 steals per game. The Sixers also have two top-10 picks in the draft with four others in the second round.
Nothing good in basketball has come to Philadelphia since 1983, but in offering almost all of their available $34.7 million, LeBron could be known for building and bringing championships to the City of Brotherly Love.
They've tried to keep space clear for a couple years now, but keep missing out on the big free agents. Mark Cuban would love to have James come play in Dallas, but would James love to play there? There's two point guards in town, but Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis are more known for their assists (4.7 and 5.7 per game, respectively) than their defense. If Cuban is able to sign Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion to significantly less money than the past few years, Dallas could be a player for James.
In the end, it all comes down to what LeBron wants on a team to go win a championship. Very few teams will have the depth of a team like the San Antonio Spurs. And if James wants a good frontcourt presence on whichever team he joins, his options are limited unless Bosh goes with him, or he goes to a team with Kevin Love.
James will have his suitors, and could easily end up back with the Heat. It's just a matter of who can give him the best shot at a few more rings before its all said and done.