The United States is the Land of Opportunity. Anyone of any kind from anywhere can come here, work hard, and be successful. Some cities, however, offer a bit more opportunity than others.
While nothing has been confirmed nor denied, James seems to have his foot halfway out the door, and according to many top NBA executives, the Isaiah Thomas trade doesn’t seem to have any chance of keeping him in place. In fact, one Eastern Conference general manager called it a “foregone conclusion” that The King hightails it out of Ohio at the end of the season.
But, where will he go? Well, to answer that, we need to look at LeBron’s motives: his life after basketball.
As he said during the 2017 NBA Finals, James has nothing left to prove. He’s shown that he can lead a team to the Finals year after year (times seven). He brought a championship to his hometown. He seems satisfied (yet still hungry) with his three championship rings, no longer losing sleep over Michael Jordan and his six. Also, the emergence of Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors sure put a damper on any chance of that happening.
“That was once his obsession,” a source within the NBA told Bleacher Report. “But even if LeBron thinks he has five good years left, he’s not thinking he’s going to beat Golden State four out of the next five years. I don’t think he’s making it about that anymore. When he said, ‘I don’t have anything left to prove’ during the Finals, that’s where that came from.”
If LeBron stays in Cleveland, his chances of defeating the Warriors will only continue to drop. Players like Kyrie Irving did, will leave, and it’s hard to replace those guys. Besides, staying in Cleveland and trading championships back and forth with the Warriors does nothing for James’s legacy anyways.
Leaving, however, might. Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the only three NBA Hall of Famers who can boast leading two different teams to NBA Championships. Only John Salley and Robert Horry have won NBA championships with three different teams, and they were just role players.
“LeBron did what he came to do [in Cleveland],” said an NBA scout. “He needs to prove he can do it somewhere else now. Three different teams will make him more unique.”
So, which lucky team will land LeBron in 2018? Well, there’s a bit of disagreement there. While some Eastern Conference GMs believe that James will stay put in the East for an easier path to the Finals, a former member of the Cavaliers organization understands that James isn’t worried about winning a conference.
“He doesn’t care if he has to beat the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals or the Finals,” said the former Cavs source. “He knows he has to go through them at some point, and it doesn’t matter when. Winning another Eastern Conference banner doesn’t mean anything to him.”
If LeBron stays in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards seem like the obvious choice. There’s a lot of talent already there that he can fit into and help bring to the next level. However, there’s a team in the Western Conference that makes much more sense for LeBron when you consider all his goals for life after basketball—the Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron and his business partners have all purchases homes in the Los Angeles area within the last two years. James’s production company, SpringHill Entertainment, is based out of L.A., and LeBron has made it clear that he would like to be an NBA owner at some point after retiring.
On top of establishing himself in the city where he plans to launch his business career post-basketball, James has a chance to earn an ownership stake in the Los Angeles Lakers. Magic Johnson, the president of basketball operations for the Lakers, had a similar post-career goal, and Dr. Jerry Buss granted him a 4% stake in the team for coming back as an executive. While Johnson no longer holds that stake, he has remained close with the late owner’s daughter and the controlling owner, Jeanie.
While offering a player ownership in the team to come play is unheard of in the NBA, that 4% stake could be more than enticing enough to convince James to come to Los Angeles. That, and the young talent on the team, such as Lonzo Ball, combined with the veterans that have made their intentions of playing for the Lakers clear, such as Paul George. James would be on a team that sells itself.
While nothing is set in stone, LeBron could use a change of scenery. After all, it’s more about life after basketball than anything.