On Tuesday, LeBron James opted out of the final two years of his contract with the Miami Heat. The news wasn’t completely shocking, but it started circulation across the sports world about whether or not the King would return to South Beach. For as long as LeBron is a free agent, the question will be where will he ultimately end up?
Every team in the league would love to have the services of LeBron James. He is unquestionably the best player in the world, possessing the unique ability to play with anyone. As a transcendent talent, teams would sell their souls and family members for a chance to get #6 in uniform. At this point in his career, LeBron isn’t going to play for just anyone.It doesn’t take long to know that there are only a handful of realistic options for where the four-time MVP could end up. Let’s take a look at those options.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are a bit of a long shot, but they have a chance because they can offer one of the league’s brightest stars (Blake Griffin) in a sign-and-trade scenario if LeBron is truly interested in heading West. LeBron and Chris Paul are good friends, and LeBron is also known for having the utmost respect for head coach Doc Rivers.
The potential hang-up in this match made in Clippers heaven is the Donald Sterling situation that still hinders the Los Angeles franchise. While the league has been active in trying to rid itself of Sterling, the 80-year old embattled owner has shown that he is unwilling to go down without a fight. With court and legal battles on the horizon, LeBron might not want to go to a situation as toxic as what the Clippers’ might become.
Houston is a very intriguing possible destination. The Rockets have pieces that they can move in Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik (albeit moving their massive contracts might be difficult), and they could also potentially move Chandler Parsons, who is a very solid young player. Once freeing up cap space, they will have enough space to offer LeBron a solid contract. A “Big 3” of LeBron, Dwight Howard and James Harden could bring the city its first title since the great Hakeem “the Dream” Olajuwon brought two consecutive ships to H-Town nearly two decades ago.
The Rockets are reportedly making a hard push to sign either LeBron or Carmelo Anthony this offseason, but it is hard to see LeBron leaving the eastern conference for a team in the west. That in itself could also be a deterrent in LeBron’s wanting to go to the Clippers. Joining Howard and Harden definitely makes the Rockets contenders, but with other teams like the Clippers, Thunder and Spurs still in the conference, there are certainly no guarantees.
Like the Clippers, the Rockets have a very outside chance of getting LeBron, but there is a chance.
The Cavaliers are probably the most realistic option for LeBron if he wants to leave his current team. The opportunity to return home and bring a championship to the team that he started his career with would make for a great storyline. With a young stellar point guard in Kyrie Irving, the number one overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft (which they could move or take a talented pick like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker), and other nice pieces, Cleveland is probably the most likely destination that LeBron ends up in outside of Miami.
The big question mark for this potential move is whether or not LeBron has forgiven, or if he is willing to forgive, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for the scathing letter he wrote about him after he decided to leave Cleveland for Miami nearly four years ago. That letter might be too much for LeBron to overcome, and really, who could blame him?
Also, at the moment, this Cavaliers roster isn’t head and shoulders above the other teams vying for the talents of LBJ. Some moves can bolster this roster, but the Cavs would have to get on it relatively quickly.
Cleveland will definitely be a player in the LeBron sweepstakes. What happens in the draft and what Cleveland decides to do with the top pick could be telling when it comes to their chances of landing their once hometown hero.
Despite all of the other options out there, the Heat are probably still the favorites to sign LeBron. After all, it is the place where he has won his two titles and really learned to become the player and man that he is today. LeBron loves Miami and Miami loves him. Also, LeBron has a lot of close relationships with people within the Heat organization, mainly teammate Dwyane Wade, who is like a brother to LeBron.
Still, LeBron opted out of his contract for a reason. That reason is most likely to put pressure on the organization to make moves to improve the roster going forward. The Heat were thoroughly outplayed in the NBA Finals, losing to the Spurs four games to one. The Heat roster looked battered, old and unable to compete with the well-oiled machine that was the Spurs. At times, it looked like LeBron was the only one capable of doing anything for the Heat and after what he experienced in Cleveland, it couldn’t have been an enjoyable feeling, especially considering he came to Miami to avoid having to carry a team all by his lonesome.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh still have time to opt out of their contracts. Like LeBron, they are each set to make $40 million over the final two years of their respective deals. If Wade and Bosh opt out, that means that they are probably willing to take pay cuts or restructure their current deals so that Pat Riley has the funds to work his magic and get this team the help that they need. However, if they opt in to their contracts, then that means that the Heat will be limited in their ability to improve the roster, which could turn LeBron off. What happens in Miami over the next week or so will be a big determining factor in what LeBron decides to do moving forward.
At this point, it is a safe bet that nobody knows what is going to happen or where LeBron is going to end up, not even LeBron himself. But if you had to place your money on where you THINK LeBron might end up, the Heat are probably the safest bet. Success, trust and familiarity will play a big part in his decision and LeBron has experienced all three of those things in Miami. Again, a lot has to happen over the next few weeks, but it is hard to believe that everyone in the Heat organization won’t do everything in their individual and collective powers to make sure that LeBron stays in Miami.
Buckle up for the next few weeks, because we are once again officially on: #LeBronWatch!