The summer of 2018 looks to be a huge one for free agency, especially after rumors have spilled out that the legendary LeBron James is looking to leave Cleveland for a second time in his career. This time around, fans of the Cavaliers won’t be quite as upset, as James’s second tenure in Cleveland earned the team a title in 2016 against the Golden State Warriors.
So the whole world wants to know, if The King isn’t going to stay in his home state of Ohio, where is he heading next? The rumors are already running rampant, with some saying that it’s a lock that he’s heading out west, while others have him staying put in the Eastern Conference. No matter where he goes, the entire time leading up to his second decision is going to be a spectacle.
With that in mind, how likely is your team to land LeBron James? Most fans shouldn’t hold their breath, but it seems half of the league has James’s services up for grabs. Let’s take a look at 15 potential landing spots for James, ranked by a mixture of probability and how much of a fit it would be. For this list, we excluded Cleveland since it seems clear that he’s on the way out.
15 Milwaukee Bucks
LeBron James is no stranger to playing in a small midwestern market, and he’s shown that he can be a superstar no matter where he plays. For that reason, you can’t rule out a place like Milwaukee to acquire James, especially with what they bring to the table. Milwaukee has an exciting young roster that already finished above .500 in the 2016-17 season, and they look to take another step forward in 2017-18.
James could be chomping at the bit to play with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, two players that would grow up fast around a player like James. Since neither of them would have to move around the lineup much to insert James, it seems like a natural fit, and the fact that the Bucks are in the Eastern Conference would make them instant contenders.
14 Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta is one of those teams that’s been on the verge of something special over the past decade, but haven’t been able to get over the hump. A big reason for that is because LeBron James has been in the way during that time in which the Hawks have had a winning record in eight of the past nine seasons. Atlanta is a major market, especially in the south, and they have the capital to get James.
As it sits, the Hawks are scheduled to be more than $50 million before the luxury tax amount, meaning they could make some moves in order to land a big player like James. However, the talent level isn’t quite as high as it is in Milwaukee, but again, this is the Eastern Conference where one key player can make your team.
13 Dallas Mavericks
Many NBA fans would be drooling at the thought of LeBron James signing with Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks. Just imagining the two of them appearing in commercials together is enough to make the league want it to happen. With Dirk Nowitzki nearing the end of his career, Cuban undoubtedly wants to get him one more ring, but that’s going to be tough in the Western Conference.
Enter LeBron James, who could take big money to sign with the Mavericks. Dallas has more wiggle room with the cap next summer than just about any team, with over $55 million to spend until hitting the luxury tax. Dallas is also a major market that can lure in another star to play with James and Nowitzki to make them at least give the Warriors a run for their money.
12 Chicago Bulls
Now that the likes of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade (reportedly) are all out of the picture in Chicago, the second biggest market in the NBA has a lot of money to spend next summer. Of course, it would be easier for the Bulls to lure in James if Wade were still on the team, but only if the price is right. James and Wade are close friends, and the two would love to play together again.
There are a couple of things that are keeping James from coming to the Bulls a reality for now, though. The front office is a mess with fans calling for a change via billboards already, and how much does James really want to play in the shadow of Michael Jordan’s statue? James is already being compared to Jordan on a daily basis, and the pressure would only get worse if he called the United Center his home.
11 Minnesota Timberwolves
The thought of LeBron James playing with a slew of young stars in Minnesota would strike fear into a lot of Western Conference teams. The Timberwolves would instantly go from battling for a playoff spot to being a top contender in the west, especially after acquiring Jimmy Butler this offseason. Throw in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and this would be a superteam in the making.
The only problem right now, though, is how much money Minnesota will be able to dish out. Wiggins and Towns will likely be looking for new contracts toward the end of the season, and realistically the only way they’d be able to keep all of their young stars in addition to James is by giving James a one-year deal while they figure out what to do with Wiggins and Towns in the future.
10 Philadelphia 76ers
Speaking of young teams that would be able to improve right away with James on their roster, the Philadelphia 76ers would have an easier path to the NBA Finals since they’re in the Eastern Conference. The talent in Philadelphia isn’t at the level of Minnesota, but it could get there in a hurry. Not only is the young team developing, but they have plenty of room to make some moves next summer in addition to James.
Philadelphia is scheduled to have more than $80 million left before reaching the luxury tax, which is more than any other team in the league. Having James come in as a free agent would automatically be a selling point for another star player to come and help Philadelphia contend in the Eastern Conference.
9 Boston Celtics
As of right now, it’s pretty clear that the Celtics are the second best team in the Eastern Conference. Much like Kevin Durant helped establish the Golden State Warriors as an unstoppable force in the west, LeBron James could do the same in the east. Boston would have to get pretty creative with their payroll to acquire James, though, especially after signing Gordon Hayward to a big contract this season.
The Celtics could move Jayson Tatum and Jae Crowder to make more room for James, as they are currently just $26 million under the luxury tax for 2018-19. James joining the team would instantly make the Celtics one of the two favorites for the NBA Championship, but having to make the moves to clear enough room for his arrival would prove to be quite difficult.
8 Los Angeles Clippers
Right now, most of the rumors are saying that LeBron James will be heading to the City of Angels to play for one of the two Los Angeles teams. Part of it has to do with his Hollywood appeal, while he also has a home nearby. The Clippers are the less likely of the two L.A. teams to land James for a couple of reasons. For starters, they won’t really have enough cap room, and will have to go into salary cap hell (in addition to reworking current contracts) to get James.
While LeBron heading to Los Angeles seems like a good fit in terms of location, it’s probably not going to be the Clippers. However, owner Steve Ballmer likely wouldn’t mind having to pay a ton of money to land a guy like James for his team, especially when more people would be talking about his squad than the other team in their arena.
7 Houston Rockets
Houston is a hot destination for players right now, as they have a bit of an “it” factor while being one of the five largest markets in the United States. Houston already has the likes of James Harden, and rumors are saying that the team could acquire Carmelo Anthony in a trade after acquiring Chris Paul earlier this offseason. Now, the rumors are swirling that the Banana Boat Crew could have a reunion.
That would require the Rockets to acquire Anthony while getting rid of the contracts of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon (which won’t be easy). The Rockets should be able to get Dwyane Wade for cheap if they really want to reunite the four close friends. The front office has a lot of work to do, especially to land three expensive players, but it could be done in theory.
6 Miami Heat
Back on July 8, 2010, LeBron James changed the landscape of professional basketball when he announced that he wouldn’t be re-signing with the Cavaliers, instead opting to head to the Miami Heat. After finding success on South Beach, James returned to his native Ohio...but could he make another “return” to Miami? So far, sources say that it’s unlikely that James will head back to the Heat, but he certainly felt at home there.
James would end up saving himself a lot of money in taxes by playing in Miami, which is always an enticing proposal for multi-millionaires. James still spends a lot of time in the Miami area during the offseason, and we’ve already seen him rebuild bridges once. Since his exit from Miami was a lot less messier than his first Cleveland exit, it would be a smooth transition for James to make.
5 Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City is an extremely intriguing destination for LeBron James solely for the fact that he would be playing with Russell Westbrook, who already played with one former MVP in the form of Kevin Durant. Now an MVP himself, Westbrook still needed a second man to help him take on the Golden State Warriors in the 2017-18 season. The team then added Paul George, who’s under contract through the 2018-19 season.
Even if for just one season, the Thunder could create a big three consisting of George, Westbrook and James. That would be a difficult situation for the Thunder as they already have large contracts to dole out to Steven Adams and Enes Kanter during the same season, but perhaps some trades could get James to Oklahoma City where they would be able to contend with Golden State.
4 Phoenix Suns
Wait, could the Phoenix Suns really be one of the top landing spots for perhaps the greatest player of all time? Not only is it true, but the rumors about James heading to the Valley of the Sun are really starting to pick up steam. The Suns are scheduled to have a ton of cap room during the summer of 2018 with $22 million in practical cap space and $43 million under the luxury tax limit to spend.
Phoenix also has a solid nucleus to build around with Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, and would have the ability to add another piece up front to start contending right away. That’s not the biggest reason that James could be heading to Phoenix, though. James is incredibly close with former teammate James Jones, who was named as the Vice President of Basketball Operations in July 2017.
3 New York Knicks
You could argue that LeBron James has already played with one of the most polarizing owners in the NBA with Dan Gilbert, so James Dolan might actually be a step up. The opportunities to make money are already present for LeBron, but they’d be limitless in a place like New York City, and even a guy like LeBron has to think about the bottom line. What makes the Knicks an even better landing spot for James is if they hold on to Carmelo Anthony through the season so they can play together for once.
Players are already starting to drop hints that James is heading to New York, as Blake Griffin recently said that the Banana Boat Crew wants to play together, and that “I could see (James) going to New York before L.A.. I still think, when you go to the Garden, it’s a completely different feeling.” The Knicks will have to pay a lot of money, but it could be done.
2 San Antonio Spurs
It’s no secret that LeBron James thinks the world of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. Earlier in 2017, James said that “I think (Popovich is) the greatest coach of all time.” Popovich has been just as friendly when talking about James for more than a decade in return. James really wants to play for Popovich, and right now he’d have to wait until the 2020 Summer Olympics to do so.
That is, of course, unless James were to end up with the Spurs next summer. Despite all of their talent, the Spurs have been able to leave themselves plenty of space below the luxury tax cap. The team tried to acquire Chris Paul this offseason, but weren’t able to land the trade. With Paul and James both on the free agent market, it’s not out of the question to see the two players take a paycut for the chance to play together under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich and rule the Western Conference.
1 Los Angeles Lakers
Then, of course, there’s the team that everyone seems to think is the frontrunner to acquire LeBron James next summer. The first rumors that rolled out said that James was pretty much dead set on heading to the Lakers, but it hasn’t been a sure thing. Even if they aren’t the clear frontrunner right now, there’s no doubt that being able to be the man in a city like Los Angeles with a lot of young talent surrounding him would be intriguing.
The Lakers also have the benefit of having a lot of room on their payroll, with more than $46 million in practical cap space for 2018-19 as of right now. Not only will the Lakers be the most aggressive in trying to acquire James, but they’ll also be able to pursue other free agents to team up with the likes of James, Lonzo Ball and a cast of other potential stars.