LeBron James in the best basketball player of this generation, and as such, he is judged by a higher standard than the rest of the players in the league. Lately, James has been outspoken about his legacy, and he has spoken about the fact that he is chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan as the best player in the history of the game. James believes that the measure of a player’s legacy is tied to the number of championships that he wins, but in his pursuit of championships, LeBron has placed himself at odds with his Cavaliers teammates and management.
As of this writing, the Cleveland Cavaliers are far and away the best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, but the team has fallen on hard times in its pursuit of being the best team in the league and repeating as champion. Because of this, James has made requests to Cavs management, but has been seemingly unhappy with the results. On the other hand, James’ deft manipulation of the league’s salary cap has allowed him to pick and choose where he plays and for how much. Therefore, if James has the opportunity to become a free agent at the end of the current season, and he elects to leave Cleveland due to being unhappy with management, there are several destinations where he might take his talents, and several other teams that seemingly have no chance of signing The King.
15 Want: Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are arguably the third best team in the NBA’s Western Conference, just a shade below the Warriors and the Spurs. The Clippers are also one player short of being a true threat for the NBA Championship, and that weakness is at the small forward position. While it is true that LeBron James can play multiple positions, his natural position is small forward, and his presence would elevate the games of Blake Griffin and J.J. Reddick, provided the team could keep those two players.
The Clippers also offer LeBron James the ability to play for a coach who has taken a team to the championship, as well as Chris Paul, one of LeBron’s best friends in the league. James has been very open about his desire to play on a team with one or more of his friends, and though he has already done that in Miami with Dwyane Wade, he would love to play with Paul. Also, playing in Los Angeles for the Clippers would minimize the amount of media attention that LeBron would get because in Los Angeles, the Clippers are not the only show in town.
14 Won't: Los Angeles Lakers
One difference between playing for the Clippers and playing for the Lakers is that the Lakers receive far more local media attention than do the Clippers, and that might be undesirable to James. The Lakers are also not a team that is immediately ready to win a title, so the Lakers would have to wholesale roster changes in order to satisfy James’ desire to win and win now. Though the Lakers have a collection of players who were high draft picks, so did Cleveland when he returned there, and those players were moved in order to construct the roster that defeated the Warriors for the 2015-16 NBA Title. The same would have to happen in Los Angeles, and lately, the Lakers franchise has not been a desirable location for top NBA talent.
Also, with the Lakers, LeBron would be chasing the ghosts of Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, as both Magic and Kobe led the franchise to five championships during their years in Los Angeles. Failure to win in LA might cause the Laker fans to turn on LeBron the way that they did with Dwight Howard, and LeBron might not be willing to risk the hit to his legacy.
13 Want: Chicago Bulls
LeBron has stated that he is chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan, and while playing in Chicago might be difficult for a player who desires to be better than MJ, LeBron might see this as the ultimate challenge. The Bulls’ roster is made up of good young players, and features James’ good friend Dwyane Wade, who LeBron teamed with to win two titles in Miami. The current player dissension in Chicago might be a turn-off to LeBron, but he might also be the player who could bring the roster together and focus them on the goal of winning.
Wade only has a few good years left in his body, and if LeBron wants to win a title with Wade, it would have to happen sooner than later. As such, James would need to either get Wade to Cleveland, or take himself to Chicago. With Cleveland over the salary cap, the easy option is for James to go to Chicago, team with Wade and Jimmy Butler, move Rondo, and try to win a title before Wade retires.
12 Won't: Miami Heat
When LeBron James left Miami, Pat Riley felt as if a deal between the team and James had been broken. After appearing in four-straight NBA Finals, James left Miami for Cleveland and led the Cavaliers to an NBA title. The fans in Miami were as upset with James as were the fans in Cleveland when he initially left the Cavs for the Heat. James was able to return to Cleveland because he is a native of Ohio. It would not be as easy to return to Miami because he has no ties to the city or the state.
A couple of players remain from the Heat’s championship years, and the team has a couple of quality young players on the roster, but not enough to challenge for the NBA title. While it would be a feel good story for the fans of the Heat, LeBron needs to win and the Heat do not offer him the opportunity. He needs more than the Heat has as the team is currently constructed.
11 Want: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder featured two of the best players in the league before Kevin Durant left OKC for the Warriors. However, even without Durant, OKC is still one of the best teams in the Western Conference, and still features the dynamic talent of MVP-candidate Russell Westbrook. While the question over which player was more important to the team is said to have caused the split between Durant and Westbrook, LeBron would arrive in OKC, and would acknowledge that the team belongs to Russell, just as he did in Miami with Wade before becoming the focal point of the franchise.
With Durant gone, the Thunder appear to be one player short of truly being an elite team in the league, and LeBron could be that player, and could help to elevate Westbrook’s game to an even higher level, if such a thing is possible. Also, being in Oklahoma would allow LeBron to concentrate on basketball, and, as in many of the other smaller NBA cities, would minimize the amount of media coverage he would receive. However, once the team started winning or losing, the coverage would follow as it does in Cleveland.
10 Won't: New York Knicks
Playing for the Knicks would give LeBron the opportunity to play with his friend Carmelo Anthony, the chance to play home game in Madison Square Garden, and the chance to learn from Knicks GM Phil Jackson. However, if reports are to be believed, Anthony is not long for the team because of a rift with Jackson, and by the time that James got there, Anthony could be somewhere else. The Knicks also feature the oft-injured Derrick Rose, so James would be asked to carry a heavier load because the team’s second best player is often not available.
The presence of Phil Jackson in New York means that James will be forced to attempt to run the triangle offense. While James is a talented player, not every player is suited for the offense, as neither Michael Jordan nor Kobe Bryant were fans of the triangle. Also, the presence of Jackson means that James would be forced to endure the constant jabs in the media, as Jackson likes to take shots at his star players in the press as opposed to speaking to them directly. Since LeBron has made it clear that he is not a fan of negative criticism, a marriage of James and Jackson would be destined for failure.
9 Want: Golden State Warriors
Fans and the media were negatively critical of Kevin Durant when he left OKC for Golden State, so as LeBron’s legacy is important to him, it would seem that there is no good reason for him to join the Warriors. However, LeBron is only interested in winning championships, and if the Warriors offer him a better opportunity to win than the Cavs do, then joining the Warriors would be a wise move.
The Warriors have the best record in the NBA, and are nine wins better than the Cavs, so one can only imagine how much better the Warriors would be with LeBron in the same lineup as Golden States big 4. No team has ever gone undefeated during a season, but this team would have the potential to do just that. The only issue that this super team would face is the press determining which player would win the league’s MVP award.
8 Won't: San Antonio Spurs
Just as the Warriors, as of this writing, have a better record than the Cavs, so do the Spurs. Also, the Spurs are arguably the best organization in the NBA, and with LeBron being someone who does not get into trouble, he would be a perfect fit for the team. The Spurs offer a championship résumé, and employs two of the top players in the league, as well as two future Hall of Fame inductees. Unfortunately, San Antonio is not a place where a player becomes a bigger star than the organization.
What makes the Spurs successful is the organization’s team first structure. No one player is bigger than the team, and that is why the Spurs have been successful for so long. LeBron has the tendency to, at times, place himself and his needs ahead of his teams’, and that would not work in San Antonio. While the team would benefit from his talent, especially as the Spurs chase the Warriors, LeBron and the Spurs would not be a good fit.
7 Want: Dallas Mavericks
Dallas is a team that will be in need of a centerpiece very soon. Dirk Nowitski is in the midst of his 19th NBA season, which means that he is not long for the league. With contemporaries Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant having already retired, Dirk should be following soon, and LeBron in a player who could slide into Dirk’s spot with the Mavs.
The Mavericks have one of the most player-friendly owners in the league. Owner Mark Cuban is willing to spend whatever it takes to win a title, and he is also willing to put himself in front of the league and the media in order to insulate his players from unnecessary scrutiny. This environment would please James, as he would not have to deal with the unnecessary criticism, as Cuban would field the questions for LeBron. Though the Mavs have fallen on hard times lately, LeBron might be able to turn the franchise around and make them winners again.
6 Won't: Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings are a mess. The team features several quality players, but between management and the players and coaches, the left hand does not seem to know what the right hand is doing. A dysfunctional organization is not one where LeBron would feel as if he could win one or more NBA Championships. In addition, despite the talented players on the roster, the Kings have one of the worst records in the league, and too much would be required in order to change the franchise’s fortunes.
Sacramento has a number of quality players, but together they do not form a good basketball team. The team’s best player, DeMarcus Cousins is at odds with management, and it is possible that by the time LeBron got to Sacramento, Cousins would be gone. Together, James & Cousins, along with some functional veterans, could form a team that could challenge for the NBA title. However, if Cousins is gone, the Kings, even with LeBron, is just another team in the middle of the pack.
5 Want: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets are a team that always seems to be in the thick of the Western Conference race. With James Harden as the focal point, the Rockets are one of the top teams in the NBA, and even have a better record as of this writing than LeBron’s Cavs. What makes the Rockets so unique is the fact that the team only has one real star in Harden, but the team also has a collection of very good role players who perfectly compliment Harden on the court. Pairing LeBron with Harden would make the Rockets a difficult team to beat.
Running coach Mike D'Antoni’s hurry-up offense would allow James to make plays in a steady rhythm, either for himself or for his teammates. Also, with Harden on the floor, a player who seldom misses games, James would not be obligated to carry an offensive load for the team. This would allow James to play a more complete game, and to showcase more of his overall skill.
4 Won't: Charlotte Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets are one of the up-and-coming teams in the league. Under the leadership of Michael Jordan, majority owner of the franchise, the Hornets have been on the rise for a few years. However, unlike playing in Chicago, LeBron would not just be chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan, he would be working for Michael Jordan, and that might be too much pressure for a player who is obsessed with MJ.
One other thing that makes the Hornets an undesirable location is the fact that the team’s roster features five players who are 6’11” or taller, meaning that when an opposing team goes to a “small ball” lineup, the Hornets are ill-equipped to match the team because the Hornets are too tall. Though the bigs are solid NBA players, there are just too many of them to match a team like Golden State in a faster game. The combination of a roster not suited for today’s game, and the specter of Michael Jordan in the front office might be too much for LeBron.
3 Want: Washington Wizards
Just as it would be with LeBron playing for the Bulls, joining the Wizards at the end of his career would give the impression of LeBron James attempting to follow in the footsteps of Michael Jordan as opposed to surpassing him. However, just like the Bulls, the Wizards offer some complimentary pieces that would bring James close to a championship. The roster would need some minor tweaking, but the pieces that are in place would intrigue LeBron.
The Wizards roster features one of the best guard tandems in the league, with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Though many of the other players on the team are not household names, pairing James with Beal and Wall would create a Big Three that could entice other players to want to come to DC to play with LBJ. The addition of a quality big and a couple of shooters would make this team one of the top teams in the East.
2 Won't: Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers are a team that is in the same position that the Cavaliers were in when LeBron rejoined the team from Miami. The roster is filled with high draft picks, but features a roster full of players who have not emerged as NBA stars. Joel Embid might end up in the All-Star game, but Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Ben Simmons have yet to establish themselves in the league. A roster like this would need a major overhaul in order to become a championship team, and LeBron might not be willing to go through that twice in his career.
The Sixers have shown improvement over years past, but the team has not won more than 20 games since 2013. LeBron wants to win now, and turning a 20-win team into a champion is a daunting task. It has been done, but this team is looking to build through the draft, and is willing to wait for success, but unfortunately, LeBron is not.
1 Want: Cleveland Cavaliers
When all else fails, stay home. If LeBron James is able to opt-out of his contract at the end of the season, and is looking for a new address, the team that can offer him the most money is Cleveland. Also, the team’s ownership and management has given James everything that he thought that the team needed in order to be successful, so it can be expected that this would continue if James stayed in Cleveland. In addition, if LeBron is worried about his legacy, leaving Cleveland again would create a blow to his legacy from which he might not be able to recover.
Cleveland is the best team in the Eastern Conference, and that is not about to change anytime soon. Last season, it was expected that the Warriors would steamroll the Cavs in the NBA Finals, but the Cavs found a way to win the championship. Therefore, if James would rather beat them than join them, staying in Cleveland is the best move that he can make, as the Cavs will be the top team in the East as long as he is there.