Where Will LeBron James Be Playing Next Season?

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Here we go again — LeBron James is back on the market.

After getting decisively swept by the Golden State Warriors earlier this month in the NBA Finals, James has a lot going through his mind right now.

Depending on a multitude of factors that expand outside of more than just the game of basketball (including family and business interests), James will be deciding for the third time of his career on where he will be taking his talents to this offseason.

And similar to how it happened previously in 2010 and 2014, this third chapter of “The Decision”  could potentially cause a tremendous ripple effect onto the rest of the NBA. Wherever James will go, the balance of power within the league might change significantly.

So where will he go? That’s the multi-million dollar question right there.

According to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, the four-time MVP will have open conversations with seven different teams during free agency: Cleveland, Golden State, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami

Through a case-to-case basis, each team presents its unique sets of strengths and weaknesses to the table, so let’s take a closer look shall we?

7. Miami Heat

Reuniting with team president Pat Riley and former teammate Dwayne Wade might appear to be an appealing option, but don’t get too excited. Despite personal sentiment, the Miami Heat doesn’t seem like a realistic choice at the moment. If anything, the only reason that James would take a meeting with his former team would be because of solely professional courtesy. Although having won two NBA titles with the organization, the possibility of James retaking his talents to South Beach seem very unlikely.

6. Golden State Warriors

Now, I know what you’re thinking — this would never happen, but don’t be so sure about that. Similar phrases were thrown around about the possibility of Kevin Durant joining the Warriors only two years ago, and look where we are now. For this to become a reality though, a lot needs to happen. For starters, the Warriors would have to make some room for James. In order to do this, Golden State has to trade away some assets, including notable players such as Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Igoudala, who have all been integral pieces to the Warriors’ impressive four-year run (winning three out of the last four NBA championships). Is it possible for the defending world champions to decrease its amount owed for player salaries down from $129.8 million to $65.7 million? Hypothetically, Golden State can make it work, but it would be a real headache. In addition to complications required to make this happen, why ruin the good thing that the Warriors have already built? While James to Golden State is plausible, it’s not very probable. 

5. Boston Celtics

Well, this would make things interesting. After facing the Boston Celtics on numerous occasions throughout the years, including just as recently as this past Eastern Conference Finals, James signing with his long-time rivals would be quite the shocker to say the least. Financially speaking, the Celtics could figure it out, and the reconfiguration wouldn’t actually be that difficult.  Boston can just let go of combo guard Marcus Smart via free agency, find someone to take forward Marcus Morris in exchange for draft picks, and trade away either Al Horford or Gordon Hayward, which can easily be accomplished in the grand scheme of things. However, it is uncertain on whether or not the move would be imaginable, especially considering James’s reportedly quarrelsome relationship with ex-teammate and current Boston point guard Kyrie Irving. After enduring through the drama-filled, behind-the-scenes turmoil that occurred prior to Irving’s trade to the Celtics last offseason, it might be inconceivable. With that being said, if James wants to continue to have an easier route to the NBA Finals by staying in the Eastern Conference, Boston might be an interesting choice to consider.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

Returning to his hometown team for a second tenure in 2014, James was able to bring back with him a heavy level of passion and excitement that had not been associated with the organization since his departure. In this particular stint with the Cavaliers, James ultimately fulfilled his promise of giving Cleveland its first professional championship in 52 years, while adding four NBA Finals appearances in the process. One major advantage that owner Dan Gilbert has above the competition is that he can offer the Akron native the highest payday, potentially totaling $114.8 million ($3.4 million more than any other team). While this might seem promising for the hopes of keeping their local superstar, Cleveland’s roster is not exactly in a great place for winning more titles in the foreseeable future. Evident by last year’s playoff run that saw James completely shoulder the load into the NBA Finals, the 33-year-old had very little help (besides Kevin Love). Although personal attachment to area, as well as a massive contract, could be enticing pitches for the four-time MVP to stay, it might not be enough. If James is serious about winning more NBA titles before he retires, it will be difficult to do that with the Cavaliers. Sorry, Cleveland fans!

3. Houston Rockets

From a basketball standpoint, this move might make the most sense. Just imagine a lineup consisting of James, Chris Paul and James Harden. Houston only lost to Golden State in seven games, so just envision how the Rockets would do by adding the three-time Finals MVP to the mix. This big three would be a force to be reckoned with including the likes of one of the best overall point guards in the NBA (Paul), one of the most lethal scorers and the league’s reigning MVP (Harden), as well as one of the best athletes to ever play the game (James). I mean what’s not to like about this grouping? Although this possibility is fun to think about, the logistics of this type of move is harder than you would think. Led by general manager Daryl Morey, an NBA executive with a reputation for making bold and innovative moves for upgrading his rosters, has the expertise to pull something like this off, but it’s just going to be really difficult. Clearing the required cap space would mean relinquishing the rights to upcoming free agents Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, Tarik Black, and a few others. Furthermore, the Rockets would have to seek avenues to trade Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and P.J, Tucker for virtually nothing in terms of salary return. So let’s hypnotically say all of that happens and the Rockets acquire the $64 million necessary to resign Paul and sign James to max-level deals, Houston’s big three would have very little support besides one another, unless Morey can persuade some players to accept smaller deals with the promising allure of winning NBA titles. Again, it’s not impossible, but it won’t be easy.

2. Philadelphia 76ers

This is an intriguing and quite plausible choice for a variety of reasons. With a young, stellar foundation that includes the likes of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, James would be joining an up-and-coming team that could have a significant impact upon the rest of the league. However, from a basketball standpoint, this move wouldn’t make a lot of sense. First of all, Simmons and James are virtually the same type of player. Although Simmons is definitely the most raw and least polished of the two, both players are most dominant when they have the ball in their hands. By trying to share the load and finding an intricate balance between them, having these two on the same team could be a recipe for disaster. On another note though, maybe this is just one of those scenarios when it’s worth taking a leap of faith, and it might stick the landing. The 76ers possess the second most cap space out of any NBA this offseason, so signing James outright won’t be challenging. Also there’s been apparent mutual interest between both parties. First of all, Embiid has been adamant on his recruiting pitches to entice James to the City of Brotherly Love. Secondly, James and Simmons actually have the same agent, so there’s that personal connection too. Despite my hesitations about this pairing, this team from an individual talent perspective would be loaded with James, Simmons, Embiid and Saric. In addition to this indisputable observation, the 76ers would have an almost seamless path to the NBA Finals. So without dealing with the increased competition of the Western Conference, the Warriors will likely be the only time stuck in James’s way, and unlike this previous meeting, the “King” will not be alone.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Right now, it’s safe to assume that the Lakers are the heavy favorite to land James for next season. Possessing the largest amount of cap space in the league, the Lakers can afford to sign two max-level players this summer. In addition to James, five-time All-Star Paul George is on the free agency market and is quite possibly looking for a new team. Being originally from the area and growing up as a huge Lakers fan, several experts have predicted George to don the purple and gold, which would dramatically strengthen Los Angeles’s chances with James. Along with George, James would be joining an exciting group of players that are currently aged 24-years old or younger like Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart. If James and George ultimately come into the fold, former Lakers superstar and current president of basketball operations Magic Johnson will have fulfilled his wish and successfully built a solid foundation for an NBA title contender. Also if retired veteran Gary Payton’s claim about James sending his son to Sierra Canyon School in Los Angeles next year is true, then I think it’s safe to conclude that James will be going to Hollywood when this saga is all said and done