LeBron James Free Agency Odds: No Place Like Home?

  • In the midst of a 15-year career, LeBron James is still the NBA’s most sought after free agent
  • LeBron could complete the Process by going to Philly
  • LeBron has two homes in L.A. and would be the perfect compliment to the Lakers’ young core

LeBron James is nuts.

Like, literally, watching him play this season, is downright, dominantly wacky and should be alarming for a few reasons.

  • Despite signs of slippage in year 15 (not glaring, like, say, Peyton Manning not being able to throw a spiral anymore), he remains the best player in the NBA. That’s not supposed to be possible. Not when the NBA is as talent rich as it’s been, possibly ever.
  • He’s still got about 90-percent of the explosiveness and athleticism that peak LeBron has, but he’s a 1,000-percent better basketball player in terms of smarts and game talent. Again, this does not make sense: his basketball mind is functioning at Mensa level, and his 33-year-old body would still probably earn him a top end prospect designation in Indy if he were to participate in the NFL combine. Mind = blown.
  • Barring unforeseen injury – which, dear God, please don’t take that from us – we will be watching an unprecedented run of dominance and excellence that could stretch, realistically, into the 2022-2023 season.

Which is why this upcoming free agency period for the King is a big deal. This isn’t Carmelo Anthony joining the Thunder, Dwyane Wade going to the Bulls, or even Chris Paul going to the Rockets. No matter where he ends up, LeBron James is still tectonic enough to shift the plates of power in the NBA.

That lucky franchise will see an increase in value and instantly become a contender. That’s the bonus.

Here’s the rub: LeBron James and his team expect said franchise to go all-in. No half measures. We’re talking about saying goodbye to first round picks, young players on the roster being dealt for proven All-Star talent and any other tinkering necessary to make this team a contender from training camp.

Is winning a championship or having a three of four year championship contending window worth scorching the earth for? It’s a great question to ponder. I’m assuming the answer for these four teams we’re about to list odds for is: hell, yes!

Here we go.

 

The Incumbent

Cleveland Cavaliers: 13/7

It’s an odd but also entirely different scenario in Cleveland this time around if the team sputters out of the playoffs, and (gulp), a James-led squad fails to make the Finals for the first time since the 2009-10 season. James has fulfilled his Cleveland destiny, delivered the chip, and has played top-end basketball to put this city back on the map of basketball prominence.

His front office and management team has failed him since. First, it was not retaining GM Chris Wallace, who was in the midst of making some mega deals before team owner and clearly not LeBron’s homie Dan Gilbert let him go.

Then Koby Altman butchered the Kyrie Irving deal, sending the disgruntled all-world guard to Boston for damaged (and lippy) goods in Isaiah Thomas, the coveted Brooklyn pick, and a bunch of stiffs that would look like pylons if the Cavs still rocked the retro orange jerseys.

They rebounded some with the deadline deals, but the bottom line is that, barring a minor miracle, or LeBron going HAM for two straight months, this team is not good enough to compete for a title.

That alone is enough reason for any free agent to leave their current team: organizational dysfunction. Despite the demands of Team James, there is a framework that can still be followed, and Cleveland has messed that up badly.

So, why do the Cavs have the best shot of retaining him?

Because despite all that’s transpired, this team is one stud away from turning the team into a legit contender again.

Could that be the Brooklyn pick? Maybe, but, let’s just say, for example, the Trail Blazers get bounced in the first round of the playoffs again. For fairness, let’s just assume that becomes the 4th pick in a loaded draft – couldn’t the Cavs pry Dame Lillard from Portland for the pick and Kevin Love, and maybe an unprotected future first in 2020?

You’ve essentially replaced Kyrie with Dame, a guy who wants the ball in the crunch, and who James would eagerly defer to in order to stockpile W’s for the Cavs.

And with that, could say, another stud want to maybe sign a one-year below-market deal before moving on to greener pastures, for the chance to form a ridiculous big three (hello PG-13!)?

Add to that the familiarity with the team and system (uh, he IS the system) and the fact that he can coast to the playoffs in the East, and it’s more likely than you think he returns.

Magic Johnson and the Lakers may have their sights set on LeBron James this summer. (Photo: Neon Tommy (Flickr) CC License.)

The Upstart

Los Angeles Lakers – 3/1

This is the most rumoured one, with the obvious connections to LeBron’s magnetism to a big market that would shower him with praise even more beloved than Magic, Shaq or Kobe. There’s also the fact that he owns two houses in LA (worth close to $30 million), and the Lakers appear to have done some favors with the Klutch team (Who else was bidding $18 million for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?) to curry favor.

I think it’s a real possibility that he does go to LA, but it will have to be a whole lot more than Paul George joining him with the current iteration of young stars for LeBron to consider it. Sure, the Lakers can make trades, but are they willing to sell the youth movement for the short window of success? Is that worth Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, and their upcoming draft picks? The problem is, will those names be enough to bring in another All-Star or talented vet to help the Lakers win now?

The Lakers sure think so. I’m just not sure that LeBron currently does.

As well, the West is no joke. You’ve got a minimum of three games against the Warriors and the Rockets. Anthony Davis is just coming into his own as the baddest man on the planet for the Pelicans. You’re going to have to deal with 48 minutes of hell with Jimmy Buckets and the Wolves. Portland is no slouch. Of course, San Antonio always lurks. That doesn’t sound like fun.

Then again, those squads also have to deal with LeBron, and that’s no cake walk either.

 

LeBron James teaming up with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia would be quite a sight. (Photo: Keith Allison (Flickr) CC License.)

The Process is Complete

Philadelphia 76ers – 3/1

This one has picked up steam in the media because it sounds like a cool alternative to the Lakers, and also because young stud Ben Simmons is repped by James’ agency.

On paper, this would literally complete the process. All those years of suffering would culminate with a stretch of success that would last as long as LeBron’s prime.

Simmons and ‘Bron are interchangeable, they have a generational talent in Joel Embiid who can dominate both ends of the court. They still have Dario Saric, and he’s mighty good too. That right there is already potent. If need be, they could add another stud free agent, since the rest of the core is still on those rookie deals.

Imagine all the other vets and shooting that will want to flock to the City of Brotherly Love, joining with Bob Covington and TJ McConnell to shape what will turn into a very good roster.

It makes sense, except for the fact that this doesn’t make sense. Barring any unknown links to Philly that that haven’t been unearthed yet– was Dr. J LeBron’s low-key all-time favorite player in history? Is Rocky his all-time top movie franchise? Does he love cheesesteaks? Are the Eagles his new team to cheer for? – there’s nothing that links him to this franchise. It’s the same as him signing in Phoenix, Charlotte, or Atlanta.

And because the core of this team is so young, there’s no guarantee they’re even built for prime time, or that Embiid’s long list of ailments don’t catch up to him sooner than later, or that Simmons will ever develop a jumper that can keep defenses honest.

It can still happen, and all things being equal, who the hell is going to stop that group in the crunch? Picking your own poison is never fun.

James Harden and the Rockets have been rumoured to be in the running to land LeBron James in free agency. Photo by Keith Allison (Wikimedia Commons) CC License

The Superteam

Houston Rockets – 9/1

It’s possible that if LeBron makes this his destination, riding shotgun with James Harden and Chris Paul, it will form the scariest trio this side of Curry/Steph/KD in the NBA.

It would be downright terrifying seeing those three on the floor at the end of games. Imagine three master passers that can get to any spot they want to on the floor, high-IQ players picking at the creases of a defense. There’s virtually no chance of getting a stop.

But at what cost? Houston’s needed to execute some financial gymnastics in previous years to get both Harden and the help he’d need to operate at an All-NBA level.

If they execute this move, then the Rockets, like LeBron once mentioned about his own Cavs team, could be “top-heavy as shit”. That doesn’t mean they won’t be successful, just that they have little margin for error and need to be healthy to ensure a run to the Finals.

However, I find it hard to believe that would James chose Houston. He does have a great friend in Chris Paul, but Harden and Paul running at this current clip proves one thing: while it would be nice to have James, and they would welcome him with open arms, they don’t need LeBron James to win a title.

It would be akin to Kevin Durant going to the Warriors. And no one wants that backlash. For all the moving James has done, he has never gone to a front-runner. He may have created a few, but never has he traded near greatness for his greatness.

 

The FIELD – 19/1

Hey, dare to dream, right?

Frank Lorenzo

MTS co-founder Frank “Let It Ride” Lorenzo has been betting on sports since he was legally allowed to do so. (Did he do so before then, too? No comment.) He enjoys very strong coffee, neon lights, and passing on his wealth of betting knowledge to anyone who will listen.