LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat on Tuesday in a move that, despite the media attention it will get, should surprise no one. Whether LeBronintended to stay in Miami, or intended to legitimately test the warm andwelcoming waters of free agency, his current deal with the Miami Heat was goingto have to be sent down to Davey Jones’ locker.
What does and shouldsurprise many (including myself) is how serious the threat of LeBron leavingSouth Beach actually seems to be. What appeared to be simply a case of LeBronworking out a pay cut so he could stay with the team, allowing owner MickyArison to use the savings to bring in younger, dynamic players so LeBronwouldn’t have to play 67 minutes a game, has morphed into a contentious game ofbrinksmanship, in which LeBron uses the threat of his imminent departure to scarehis owner into backing off his hardline stance of refusing to spend into theluxury tax for the fourth straight year, and incurring all the financialpenalties that come with it.
Bottom line: the idea of LeBron leaving for greener pastures,for the second time in less than five years, doesn’t seem nearly as far-fetchedas it did only two weeks ago. What is key to remember here, is that almostanyone could conceivably sign LeBron James. But it’s not that simple. If you’reLeBron James, and you’re willing to leave a near-perfect situation like youhave in Miami right now, then you’re going to want a team that can give you twothings that Miami can’t: more money and a better basketball team.
The list of NBA teams that can provide that is very shortand very distinguished. So, let’s take a look at which NBA teams could be realistic destinations where “The King” may next decide to hold court.
First class is where the high-rollers sit, and right now,there’s no other team, other than Miami, sitting in a better to spot to bag theNBA’s best player than the Rockets. The Rockets fulfill both of the needs on a LeBronwish list; they can pay him a max salary, and offer the combination of LeBron,James Harden, and Dwight Howard, which is a better starting trio, at this stageof their careers, than LeBron, Wade, and Bosh.
In fact, should this move happen, not only would Houstonhave the best player in the league, but also they would have arguably the best center in the sport in Howard. Plus, arguably the best shooting guard in JamesHarden. Rounding out the starting five would be Patrick Beverley and ChandlerParsons, and that would be the hands-down, man-down best starting five in theNBA.
The Rockets would have to move Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin toclear the cap space to make this happen. But, with the dearth of big men in theNBA, and GM Daryl Morey’s deal-swinging ability, that shouldn’t be too much ofa problem.
This, by all means, should be known as the Hollywooddestination. Because, if LeBron were to return to Cleveland, after his highlyungracious exit, and help them to win a title, it would be a script that could only come out of Tinsletown. In fact, it would probably be a script thatHollywood would have rejected as being too corny and improbable.
But, don’t you reject it so quickly. The online gamblingwebsite, Bovada, listed Cleveland as having 7/2 odds for re-landing theirnative son, second only to Miami keeping LeBron at 1/3. Two problems exist withthis though: the Cavaliers are only $16 million under the projected salary capof $63 million next year, and they still have the #1 overall pick in the draft tospend money on.
However, there is somewhere in the neighborhood of $8million to be saved in deals involving Alonzo Gee and Anderson Varejao. Plus,teaming LeBron up with the up-and-coming star Kyrie Irving, in addition toAndrew Wiggins, or whoever the Cavs select first overall in the draft, wouldmake for a great beginning. Maybe not a championship team this year, but thebeginning of one.
There’s a little Hollywood in this as well–taking histalents to the city where Michael Jordan, the player he’s most often comparedto, won all of his championships. But, just like LeBron, MJ is a badcomparison, and LeBron to Chicago may not be a great deal. Derrick Rose’sinability to stay healthy takes the starch out of it. Plus, Chicago would havea lot more work to do in shuffling contracts, since they currently have no capspace.
Add to this the very credible reports that Carmelo Anthonymight be headed to the Windy City, and I just don’t think there are enoughbasketballs in the game for a Four Horsemen act from LeBron, Melo, Rose, andNoah.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers will get mention here, but only because they’rethe Lakers. Kobe is a shell of a shell of the player he used to be, making waytoo much money and talking way too much to make a union with LeBron a happything for all concerned. Of all the scenarios, placing LeBron on a team withKobe, who may not play 20 games next year, and an aged Steve Nash, who may notplay much more than that, is easily the least likely arrangement to land LeBronin the Finals anytime soon.
Los Angeles Clippers
Interestingly, the best LA fit might be the second mostpopular team in the City of Angels. The Clippers have virtually no cap space.But, this is also a team that just sold for $2 billion dollars. So, if SteveBallmer is willing to egregiously overpay hundreds of millions for a basketballteam, why wouldn’t he be willing to overpay tens of millions for a basketballplayer?
Putting LeBron next to Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, andDeAndre Jordan would be salty. Not saying it’s a likely scenario, but don’trule it out.
Dallas will always be a player, just because of who theirowner is, and well, because they’re Dallas. But, beyond that there’s not muchto go on here. Dirk Nowitzki still needs to be re-signed, which will eat-up aton of space, and although LeBron respects Dirk, he’s probably looking toteam-up with someone significantly younger.
Love my Wizards, but despite the bevy of young talent andconsiderable cap space, their best chance at landing a top-flight superstar isgoing to come in 2016 when DC-area native Kevin Durant becomes available. LeBronhas never even hinted at a willingness to play in DC.
If you think the LeBron-to-MJ comparisons are bad now, waituntil LeBron is actually employed by MJ. Why on Earth would LeBron bring thison himself? Answer, he wouldn’t. Charlotte has the cap space and would be areally tough out with LeBron on-board. But, politically it just doesn’t work.
New York Knicks
Not a chance.
Ha! I needed the laugh.
Dylan Gwinn is the host of The Mighty Gwinn Show heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio every Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 EST. Follow him on Twitter @themightygwinn.