LeBron James in a Lakers uniform next season? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.
LeBron James thought he’d be able to bring a title to Cleveland in one year.
…And he wasn’t far off, two games to be exact.
With a healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, it’s conceivable the Cavs, not the Warriors, would have hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy game six in Cleveland. The sped-up reclamation plan of LBJ’s home state’s beloved basketball franchise would’ve come to fruition less than 10 months after he took on the role of the Sixth City’s prodigal son. And Cleveland’s half-century championship drought would’ve been quenched with a confetti shower.
James, then, would be free to move on—to finally unshackle himself from the moribund NBA Eastern Conference and move to Los Angeles—you know: Manifest Destiny, multiple titles, letting the league know someone still wants to play with Kobe. Plus, Jack and Ashton and Mila and JT and Kanye and Caitlyn.
Even with unfinished business in Cleveland, it could still happen.
Consider the following:
1) James will bypass his $21.6 million player option with the Cavs and become a free agent on July 1 making this the the third time in the past six years he’s been on the market as an unrestricted free agent. He’s one-for-two thus far making a move.
2) James wants nothing to do with David Blatt and the Cavs have no intention of replacing their head coach.
3) James’s agent Rich Paul also represents the Cavs restricted free agent Tristan Thompson. Paul said his first priority is to get Thompson a deal. After a strong postseason, the 24-year-old forward is expected to fetch more than $13 million per year. LeBron will cost the Cavs $22 million for an additional year of his services. Love, an unrestricted free agent, will command somewhere between $18-$20 million. That puts Cleveland on the hook for $53 million for 2015-’16 without even filling out their front court. Even with the league TV deal money kicking in (bumping the salary cap to $90 million for 2016-’17) the Cavs, a second-tier market team, will be hard-pressed to keep it under.
4) The Lakers have the opposite problem. GM Mitch Kupchick and the Buss family are known spendthrifts, yet they have no one and nothing to spend it on. There’s another bump scheduled for 2017-’18—a $108 million salary cap with a luxury tax threshold of $127 million—which means the Lake Show (committed to just $47 million—including $25 to Kobe for this coming season, well under the current $81 million cap) can spend, spend, spend—not only on James or Love, but to lock up second-year guard Jordan Clarkson and rookie D’Angelo Russell to long-term deals. Hell, they may even make a play for KD when he comes on the market this time next year.
5) James just sold his waterfront home in Coconut Grove, Fla. for $15 million. He’s currently in LA for his skills camp…and he and his wife love the City of Angels more than old people love lunch at Costco. Look for them to check the Malibu MLS while living there this summer.
6) After adding at least three rings in LA, James can always return to Cleveland in his mid-30s to finish his career and build his dream team through free-agents and draft picks then. He only has one chance to win a few titles with Kobe.
7) This photo:
ESPN et al. would very much like everyone to believe LeBron is not dipping his toes in the Pacific as a free agent this year. But let’s just say out of nowhere Kate Upton started blowing you up on Snapchat; even if you had the best girlfriend in the world: one who’s loyal, makes yummy Rice Krispy treats at 2 a.m. and even washes your car when she borrows it…holding line one is…Kate Upton*.
Los Angeles beckons the King. It’s where his friends live. It’s where he wants to raise his kids. It’s where all of his support crew (manager, agent, publicist and handlers…all of his handlers) work and live. It’s where he makes his real money—every photo shoot, podcast, guest spot, video game, commercial and movie cameo is there. Plus, you know, The Coffee Bean.
Sure, the ex may push your clothes in a pile and burn them in your front yard (again), but ultimately she’d understand…she got dumped for Kate Upton**.
Note: If James does sign another lease with the Cavs, he will do so for only one more year. This also puts him in a position to jump next summer for a one-year-more-mature Lakers who will also have that much more under-the-cap coin to play with.
Maybe James boards the Southwest flight to Burbank with a ring for the home state this time next year and the Cavs fans still get their happy ending. Maybe not. Either way, it’s only a matter of time till LeBron poofs up the chalk cloud awash in purple and gold—the only colors fit for a King.
*Ladies, you have Ryan Gosling or Chris Hemsworth similarly checking in on you.
**Or, for the girls (and most guys) Channing Tatum