The buzzer has sounded on LeBron James’ second lifetime in Cleveland. It’s time to rev up the engine and get his free-agent, victory-seeking tour on the road.
My suggestion: Load up a party bus and hit the pike, because this recruiting trip already has turned into a battle of billboards.
And don’t worry about filling the tank. Chances are, this trek isn’t going far.
Maybe you’ve seen the neon flashing display on the east side of the Mississippi River: “Relocating west can be hazardous to your dreams.”
No doubt, James is well aware, not just of the sign but also its message.
With the Lakers and Spurs primed to challenge the Warriors and Rockets should James relocate to their city, James has to know, as he did in 2010, that the path to a potential fourth championship is much smoother east of The Big Muddy.
So you can scratch 16 teams off the list of dreamers. James isn’t going west, and he sure isn’t going back to Cleveland.
That leaves an assortment of teams — ones with money, ones with potential star sidekicks, ones with good, young talent and, mostly, ones James would never consider. Clearly, one stands out as a bigger favorite than Justify in the Belmont Stakes.
Here are my five most likely to land him:
1. Heat. Did you hear LeBron gushing about Dwyane Wade on the eve of elimination this week? A chance to reunite with a great franchise-builder (Pat Riley), a coach he respects (Erik Spoelstra) and the player he admires most (Wade) gives Miami three strikes at the grand prize. And here’s the best part: A Heat championship next season would be James’ third in five seasons with Miami, equaling Golden State’s total and knocking the rival Warriors off their dynasty pedestal. No other of his potential destinations wields that kind of power.
2. Knicks. There are two ultimate challenges left for LeBron to conquer, and this certainly is one. Anyone powerful enough to return the Knicks to prominence would have to go down as the Greatest of All Time. And maybe it wouldn’t be as hard as most think. After all, who’d have thought the Cavaliers would get to four straight Finals when LeBron apologized and returned home? The Knicks are better off now than the Cavaliers were four years ago, and they have a Kyrie Irving-type sidekick in Kristaps Porzingis. Plus, LeBron just might get Cleveland’s blessing making this move. A Knicks title, after all, is a triumph for the first family of Cleveland, the Dolans.
3. 76ers. This selection really should go down with an asterisk, because it’s simply not going to happen. But so many people believe it could — heck, some believe it’s likely — I feel compelled to carve out a spot. No doubt, the up-and-coming 76ers not only have the means to sign LeBron, but also enough young talent to escort him to a ninth straight NBA Finals. But, frankly, they don’t need him. They already employ a similar talent in Ben Simmons and should focus their available funds on a supporting cast for him, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz. You might not have noticed, but LeBron doesn’t do supporting cast.
4. Bulls. I mentioned two ultimate challenges left for LeBron. This is the second. Or maybe the first, given the endless debate over who’s the greatest: LeBron or Michael Jordan? The best way to silence the chatter would be to beat (or at least equal) Jordan at his own game — and that means taking the Bulls back to the top. Like the Knicks, the Bulls would need to do some creative money management and roster shuffling, but having the seventh pick in the draft, two ahead of New York, would give LeBron a chance to play GM, too. And you know he enjoys that.
5. Spurs/Lakers. Let’s be honest: All the likely Eastern destinations are exhausted, so let’s glance west just for the heck of it. You know LeBron has to be enticed by the prospect of hooking up with Gregg Popovich, while relocating to Los Angeles means hand-picking a sidekick of his choice to go with a promising young supporting cast. But going west means facing the Rockets and Warriors in back-to-back playoff series just to get to the Finals, and LeBron has never shown any interest in working that hard. Even the Warriors barely made four straight Finals coming out of the West. LeBron has doubled that in the East — with the potential for more, as long as he adheres to that neon sign.
–By Dave Del Grande, Field Level Media