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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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