LeBron James can’t win. (No, not more NBA championships – although, yeah, come to think of it, that too.) LeBron can’t win next month when he makes The Decision 3.0 and chooses the team on which he’ll likely finish his Hall of Fame career.
Though LeBron’s latest free-agent spectacle promises to be a little less dramatic this time – it won’t end with jersey burning or a sanctimonious letter, – the process is guaranteed to bring criticism from media and fans who will find something to be mad about.
Here are the 10 most-rumored destinations and a prediction of how the world will react if they become LeBron’s new South Beach.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are the favorite to land LeBron (according to oddsmakers, who were well off about Miami at this point in 2010 – the Bulls, Knicks and staying with the Cavs were the three favorites back then), this despite L.A. having just two things going for it: location and cap space.
If LeBron goes West, watch for criticism of him putting basketball on the back burner (“might as well start calling him LeHollywood”), going to another team that’ll allow him to shape his own roster around him (“how’d that work out for everybody except for Tristan Thompson?”) and failing to carve his own path by going to a team with such a storied history (“he’ll just be the least beloved guy with his jersey in the rafters.”)
None of these are good criticisms, mind you, but that’s the point. It’s coming no matter what. (FWIW, LeBron isn’t going to wait – and waste – two seasons for the Lakers to get good. For that matter, he isn’t going to the West, not when it’d mean having to face Golden State in the second or third round of the playoffs. If LeBron wants Magic Johnson to mentor him, as some have reported, they can FaceTime.)
2. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia rumors have a “college senior hanging out at his old high school” vibe to it. It’s been said that going to Philly will allow LeBron to “age gracefully” and relax during the regular season while Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid shoulder the load. Because, yeah, that’s exactly who LeBron is: someone to kick back and watch others do the work.
Also, do you think LeBron is going to join a team whose entire existence can be jeopardized by one Joel Embiid knee buckle or one Joel Embiid tweet? If you treat this whole process like LeBron is bringing his money to Vegas to make a bet, then Philly is the roulette wheel.
3. Houston Rockets
But if LeBron was going to go to the West (he’s not), Houston would be the only attractive option. Sure, Chris Paul has shrunk in big games dating back to his days at Wake Forest and a James Harden/LeBron pairing is a Behind The Music waiting to happen, but it’s a heck of a lot better than seeing LaVar Ball every day for three years.
On the down side (and it’s a big one), going to Houston would elicit the most negative reaction of any decision. Another superteam? Another blow to an already-noncompetitive NBA that’ll render the seven months between October and the Western Conference Finals even more meaningless than it already is?
Get ready to be called a heartless mercenary again, LeBron, but this time there won’t be rings to distract from the blowback.
4. San Antonio Spurs
What do David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have in common? Each possessed alpha dog qualities, but none carried themselves like undisputed alpha dogs, which helped everyone co-exist with a coach whose ego is almost certainly bigger than he lets on. LeBron and Coach Pop sound like a great fit. So did Phil Jackson and the Knicks, until a scintilla of thought was given to the situation and people realized it was an imminent disaster.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron is happy to make J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson the scapegoats in his departure from Cleveland and will have to hope no one appreciates the irony that the only reason Smith and Thompson were with the Cavs is because LeBron wanted it.
6. Boston Celtics
Like a Bill Simmons fever dream, the idea of LeBron to Boston has gained momentum in recent days, not because of anything LeBron has ever done or said, but because the Celtics are one of the four teams in the league that could immediately challenge for a title. (And by “challenge for a title” I mean “steal one Finals game and then catch the overconfident Warriors on an off-night to force a Game 6 that you lose 118-94.”)
7. Golden State Warriors
It’s been said a lot in recent years, but it can’t be said enough: LeBron James turning out so well-adjusted is practically a miracle given all the money and pressure that was showered upon him at a young age. If there’s one knock on him besides his penchant for self-righteousness it’s a lack of self-awareness. The Decision is the best example but we can chalk that up to the audacity of youth. But the hand thing from this year’s Finals? LeBron had no idea how pathetic it looked when he whipped out that cast and said “see?!” That being said, even LeBron can see that going to Golden State would be an act of self-assured destruction.
8. Miami Heat
Pat Riley is 73. LeBron will be 34 at the start of next season and has more mileage on him than that old guy in a Speedo at the Clevelander. If you figure that both have five or six years left in their NBA careers, a reunion makes a bit of sense. From LeBron’s perspective, who better than Riley to build the team that’ll surround LeBron in his basketball twilight? But a Cleveland->Miami->Cleveland->Miami career path has a repetition ripe for mockery.
9. Washington Wizards
This idea was floated by Michael Wilbon who supposed that LeBron’s “outspokenness, his engagement, his involvement, his engagement with what is going on nationally, culturally” might work in the nation’s capital. But going to Washington comes with a different set of concerns. Given D.C.’s week-old status as a sporting juggernaut, would LeBron get flak for jumping on the bandwagon?
10. New York Knicks
I’m contractually obligated to mention the Knicks in regards to any speculation about LeBron’s free agency.
Here’s the thing: None of the criticism is going to stick. If we forgave him for the first Decision then anything short of teaming up with Dennis Rodman to play for North Korea will seem underwhelming in retrospect. LeBron came around to understand how disastrous his “South Beach” line had been and it seemed to influence his decision to return to Cleveland four years later.
This time, there’s no first championship to chase or anything to make right. LeBron’s going to go where LeBron wants to go. Deal with it.
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