Say what you want about LeBron James but everything he’s done, every career move he’s made, every contract he’s signed, has had a single objective in mind — win an NBA championship. It’s foolish to think that’s changed.
Forget the rumors about LeBron going to LA to set the stage for his next career move or satisfy his wife’s desire to live there. LeBron’s not going to bolt Cleveland and go to LA just to do Space Jam 2 and hobnob in Hollywood. There’s only one reason LeBron changes teams, which is to increase his odds of winning an NBA championship. That’s why he left the Cavs the first time and he won’t do it again unless it gives him a better chance to win a ring.
The truth is LeBron wouldn’t be planning to join the Lakers unless he believed they’d be able put together a superteam that could challenge the Warriors. As crazy and wild as that sounds, there is no other reasonable explanation.
So the big question is what makes LeBron think going to the Lakers would give him a better chance of beating the Warriors than staying with the Cavs? The answer is the Lakers have an impressive new front office led by Magic Johnson, a dynamic young coach in Luke Walton, scintillating young talent in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, and $70 million in cap space to spend in free agency this summer to build a superteam capable of beating the Warriors.
That cap space is the key to LeBron’s interest as the Lakers are the only viable free agent destination with the cap space necessary to build a superteam. In fact, they’re one of only five NBA teams projected to have any open cap space next summer, along with the Hawks, Bulls, Mavs, and Pacers, none of whom are serious threats to attract LeBron or serve as a venue to build a superteam. Unless you luck out like the Warriors did with Kevin Durant, the reality is it’s near impossible to build a superteam without cap space to sign free agents.
The Cavs’ financial situation, meanwhile, is a complete disaster with no cap space to sign free agents in the foreseeable future and no tradable assets other than the Nets’ pick they received from the Celtics in the Kyrie trade. While the Cavs could convert the pick into a solid player like Eric Bledsoe, it doesn’t appear that is going to happen, which leaves the Lakers in the cat’s seat as the only realistic option if LeBron wants to join a new superteam.
But would adding LeBron James and another free agent superstar like Paul George give the Lakers enough firepower to compete with the Warriors? Most NBA writers and pundits don’t see how a Lakers team with LeBron, PG, and a pair of 20-year old kids could take down the Warriors and their Big 4. So what does LeBron know or assume that the writers and pundits don’t? What makes him think the Lakers could seriously challenge the Warriors?
The answer is LeBron doesn’t plan to go up against the Warriors with just himself, Paul George, and a pair of 20-year old kids. He knows that’s not enough to beat the Warriors. LeBron’s likely plan is to recruit two superstars like Russell Westbrook and Paul George to join him on a Lakers’ superteam, with the three of them agreeing to split the Lakers’ $70 million three ways. It’s the only way to build a superteam that could dethrone the Warriors.
A Lakers lineup of Lonzo Ball, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Brandon Ingram, and LeBron James would have huge upside but would also be overly reliant on a pair of 20-year old kids, which is not how you win in the NBA. Hopefully, Lonzo and Brandon will enjoy breakout years and transform the Lakers into a playoff contender. If they don’t, don’t be surprised if Magic and Rob trade one of them for a veteran star if needed to topple the Warriors.
Love him or hate him, you have to give LeBron credit for his relentless pursuit of championships. Anybody who thinks he’s done chasing rings and ready to move onto the mogul stage of his post basketball career is disrespecting one of the fiercest competitors to ever play the game. LeBron realizes his window is closing in Cleveland and he’s looking to open up a new one in Los Angeles. While he’s still keeping his options open, he’s also thinking long term.
LeBron also realizes that the basic rules for building superteams have to be thrown out the window if he hopes to dethrone the Warriors. Kevin Durant’s decision to accept a salary of only $26 million so the Warriors could re-sign Iguodala and Livingston, two key members of their league best bench, set a new bar for superstars who want to play on superteams. Don’t think LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George didn’t see what Durant did.
A Lakers’ superteam with Lonzo Ball manning the point and LeBron James and Russell Westbrook running the wings would be one of the most exciting and entertaining NBA teams ever. The Lakers would have the league’s three biggest triple-double threats and two of its last three MVPs. They would have the modern version of Showtime Magic and Rob want and a juggernaut of a basketball team with the elite talent to challenge and defeat the Warriors.
This is why superteams are so important to the NBA, why the revival of the Celtics and Lakers matters so much, why values of franchises are rocketing. Greatness begets greatness. The Warriors may have momentarily separated themselves from the rest of the league but teams like the Lakers and Rockets are busy raising their bars and escalating their efforts to compete with them.
There’s a long way to go until next summer and we know how quickly the landscape can change but the Lakers and LeBron seem to be paired in one of those mating dances that hopefully leads to a better and deeper relationship. The Lakers and LeBron need each other if either has any hope of challenging the Warriors in the near future. They both know superteaming up is their best opportunity to beat the Warriors and win another NBA championship.