Possible Landing Spots for LeBron James
Once again, LeBron James has a huge decision to make that will send ripple effects throughout the NBA. The current odds have the Los Angeles Lakers as heavy favorites to land LeBron this summer, followed by the Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Houston Rockets. This article reviews the pros and cons of each new team and analyzes how each could structurally acquire him.
Los Angeles Lakers
Instantly become a title contender alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
Become the celebrity of all celebrities by bringing storied franchise back to glory
More opportunities in Hollywood, either acting or producing
Tech investing opportunities, similar to Kevin Durant in Silicon Valley
Sunshine and beaches!
Redundancy at the wing position
Would Popovich really trade Kawhi to the Lakers and create a super team?
Ridiculous state income taxes
How it Would Work:
I wish I wrote this article earlier. I thought of this crazy trade scenario back in April (see the timestamp in the picture below) that seemed impossible. It was one of those conversations where “if this, this and that all happened, wouldn’t it be crazy?” Fast forward a few months and it seems almost certain!
It makes all the sense in the world now. Kawhi Leonard wants to go to a bigger market and is from the LA area. The Lakers have a wealth of young talent and assets that would help San Antonio rebuild. They also can make room to sign LeBron and Paul George to max deals. It’s a match made in heaven.
This is what I’d do if I were Magic Johnson. I’d use the “stretch” provision to waive Luol Deng and reduce his $18.0 million cap hit to $7.4 million. That would leave the Lakers with enough cap space to sign both LeBron ($35.4 million) and George ($30.3 million) to max contracts. Then I would guarantee/sign the contracts of several minimum players from last year’s roster – Tyler Ennis ($1.6 million), Ivica Zubac ($1.5 million), Thomas Bryant ($1.4 million), and Andre Ingram ($1.6 million). These guys will help with salary matching in the trade to come. The Lakers would then have $3.7 million of available cap space to sign a free agent, hopefully a center chasing a ring on discount.
Next, I would package the minimum players listed above with Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, the Lakers first-round draft pick, and $5 million in cash to trade for Kawhi. Finally, I’d fill out the roster using the Room Mid-Level exception ($4.4 million) and veteran minimum contracts.
If I were the Spurs, I’d prefer this deal (my original chat screenshot and ESPN had the Spurs taking on Deng). Instead of taking on Deng’s enormous contract, the Spurs would be acquiring a collection of one-year veteran minimum contracts that they could waive using the $5 million in cash from the Lakers.
Best option to win championship – best starting five with deep bench
Paul and Harden greatly reduce LeBron’s responsibilities
Increased exposure to Chinese market and Tilman Fertitta’s business empire
No state income taxes!
Houston is not a “sexy” city
Not as many business entertainment opportunities relative to LA
Hot as hell
How it Would Work:
This would require a little Morey magic since the Rockets don’t have any cap space available and have a horrible contract with Ryan Anderson. Even the New York Knicks wouldn’t take on Anderson’s contract in a potential trade for Melo last year…If the Knicks won’t take him, then no one will.
The most logical way the Rockets can trade for LeBron is to trade away Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, Nene, Chinanu Onuaku, Zhou Qi, and Aaron Jackson (via sign-and-trade). While Gordon and Tucker are on great contracts, Cleveland likely won’t take on any salary because it would push them over the luxury tax threshold. It doesn’t make sense for Dan Gilbert to pay a large tax bill for a mediocre team.
The Rockets must therefore find multiple trade partners to take on the players mentioned above in exchange for draft picks. These draft picks, combined with the Rockets’ draft picks, would then be sent to Cleveland in a multi-trade team. Cleveland sheds salary to get below the luxury tax and receives draft picks to start a rebuild around – pretty similar to the trade that sent LeBron to Miami. Here’s a hypothetical trade scenario:
The Rockets could then sign Clint Capela and Trevor Ariza via bird rights and extend way over the salary cap into the luxury tax. They would still have the Room Mid-Level Exception ($4.4 million) and veteran minimum contracts to bring back most of last year’s bench. It would make sense for the Rockets to stretch Anderson to save owner Tilman Fertitta a ton of luxury tax.
Cleveland would likely go in full-blown tank mode and trade away Kevin Love for draft picks and/or young talent. In 2020, the Cavs don’t have a single player on their books. They should use the next two years to stockpile draft picks and then sign superstars in 2020’s free agency. Who knows what could happen – LeBron might even come back to finish his career in Cleveland (assuming Dan Gilbert doesn’t pen another Comic Sans letter).
Another instant title contender, especially if Paul George joins
Team set up to win for many years
Philadelphia is not a “sexy” city either
Not as many business opportunities relative to LA or HOU
Cold as hell
How it Would Work:
The 76ers have $29.7 million in available cap space, so they would need to clear about $5.5 million to outright sign LeBron to a max deal in free agency. An easy solution would be to trade Jerryd Bayless’ $8.6 million salary, a first round draft pick (#27), and $5 million in cash to a willing team. That team would then feature Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, LeBron and Joel Embiid. Pretty good, but probably still wouldn’t win the championship.
A better scenario is if Paul George were interested in teaming up with LeBron in Philadelphia. They could sign George to almost his max deal ($30.5 million) with their available cap space.
Earlier I noted that Cleveland wouldn’t take any salary because of the luxury tax, but I think they would here because the 76ers can offer young talent to rebuild with. In this scenario, Cleveland would trade LeBron for Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia’s two first round picks (#10 and #27), Robert Covington, and Bayless. Cleveland would be over the luxury tax, but they could then look to dump Kevin Love’s salary for draft picks and/or stretch either George Hill or Tristan Thompson. Complete the Process!