Nobody knows a thing about Decision 3.0, except LeBron James and maybe Lee Jenkins.
Stephen A. Smith thinks he knows where LeBron is heading come next week, throwing out Cleveland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston, Golden State, Boston and Miami as the NBA superstar’s seven potential landing spots in free agency. Others have that list trimmed to the Cavaliers, Lakers, Rockets and 76ers. Still others have it down to only Cleveland and L.A.
But nobody knows anything. What I know: LeBron isn’t coming to your city, and here’s why …
Atlanta Hawks: When asked what will factor into his free-agency decision, LeBron said, “My family. That’s all that matters,” and I’m not sure how proximity to the Gold Club helps that cause.
Boston Celtics: There’s an argument to be made that this is the best landing spot for LeBron — at least in terms of keeping his Finals streak alive, challenging the Warriors and chasing rings — but he has left his two previous NBA stays in various states of disarray and will do so again if he leaves Cleveland. Does Danny Ainge really want to gut the team he’s rebuilt to contend for a decade by acquiring LeBron for the final few years of his prime, especially when he’s spent the last decade trying to construct teams to challenge the King? Besides, Kyrie Irving left the Cavs to put some distance between himself and LeBron, and he might just have a say in the matter.
Brooklyn Nets: Jay-Z couldn’t even sell LeBron on Brooklyn in 2010. What makes you think D’Angelo Russell is going to now? (But seriously, after ridding themselves of Timofey Mozgov’s deal and buying out Dwight Howard, Brooklyn could be a sneaky player in 2019 free agency.)
Charlotte Hornets: If LeBron really wants to play with Kemba Walker, he’ll just make Koby Altman trade Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson for him in Cleveland. That’s still on the table, according to Bleacher Report. Plus, Michael Jordan wielding LeBron’s legacy would be weird.
Chicago Bulls: LeBron is chasing “the ghost” of Jordan — those six rings and that one title of G.O.A.T. — but he won’t find it in Chicago, not with Paul Zipser working as his Scottie Pippen.
Cleveland Cavaliers: In the essay announcing his return to Cleveland in 2014, LeBron wrote, “What’s important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio,” and he made good on that goal. The Cavs repaid him by turning Irving into George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. Part of that was LeBron’s own doing, of course, but that’s far from his view. He’s still thinking about Dan Gilbert’s comic sans letter. Oh, and he spent the majority of his Finals press conference between a Game 3 defeat and a Game 4 sweep waxing poetic about wanting to play with high-IQ players. Let’s just say he wasn’t talking about J.R. Smith.
Dallas Mavericks: The Mavs were “dark, dark horse” candidates for LeBron in 2010, when Mark Cuban was fined for prematurely recruiting him, and by 2014 they were only able to secure a meeting with his agent. This time LeBron might just tell Cuban he’s washing what’s left of his hair, because asking him out a third time after two rejections just feels like desperation.
Denver Nuggets: Ex-Nugs guard Earl Boykins pegged the odds of LeBron coming to Denver at “35-40 percent,” to which local columnist Woody Paige responded, “How about zero percent?” — suggesting they chase Mario Hezonja instead. I’m not inclined to agree with either, but you know it’s a hard truth when you think Woody might be closer to it. (For real, though, when you’re thinking of reasons LeBron shouldn’t go to Denver, there’s not a lot. This would be a fun fit.)
Golden State Warriors: I stand by what I wrote in February, when reports first indicated LeBron “would listen” to Golden State’s pitch “out of respect for the Warriors’ winning culture”: “This is so dumb. … This would be the worst possible move for LeBron’s legacy and a massive blow to the NBA’s credibility all at once.” I can’t think of any reasons other than this would be a horrible idea.
Houston Rockets: Hey, this one time somebody said they heard LeBron say, “He does not like Houston as a city,” so there’s that. There’s also a series of obstacles that include having to re-sign 33-year-old Chris Paul to a megadeal, find a willing trade partner for the $42 million left on Ryan Anderson’s contract, waving goodbye to Clint Capela and reconstructing a roster that was already built to beat the Warriors were it not for Paul’s injury. That seems like a lot of things.
Indiana Pacers: After winning Most Improved Player this week, Victor Oladipo told LeBron via TMZ Sports, “If you want to win, come to Indy.” Unfortunately, Indiana counts the signings of Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison last summer among the greatest free agency catches in Pacers history. Tops on that list is David West, and even he was so desperate to leave Indiana that he turned down a $12 million option to play for pennies in San Antonio and Golden State.
Los Angeles Clippers: LeBron may have a close relationship with Clips executive Jerry West, but somehow I don’t picture Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris being the other points on the triangle of LeBron’s next big three. There’s also the slight issue, courtesy of The Undefeated, of neither LeBron’s camp nor the Clippers believing he will even consider them in free agency.
Los Angeles Lakers: Oh, man. Magic Johnson made it pretty clear he intends to land LeBron, Paul George and/or Kawhi Leonard this summer or next. Except, there are rumblings George is leaning toward returning to Oklahoma City, and Gregg Popovich won’t deal Leonard to the Lakers. Which leaves LeBron tying his wagon alone to the Ball family drama. Which doesn’t seem ideal. Now, all three could be free agents again next summer, when we can speculate all over again, but if Magic is serious about stepping down for fear of failure, the clock is ticking.
Memphis Grizzlies: C’mon, Memphis. You don’t even believe your team will sign LeBron.
Miami Heat: LeBron and Pat Riley haven’t spoken since he left in 2014, and “some people that [LeBron] trusted and built relationships with” in Miami told him leaving the Heat was “ the biggest mistake of [his] career” — an allegation he levied shortly after winning the 2016 title in Cleveland. LeBron’s friendship with Dwyane Wade isn’t even enough to mend that fence.
Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo can dream, as he did at the All-Star break, when he said, “You never know, he might come here,” and again last week, when he added, “Why not? He will be a great fit.” He’s not wrong, but former Bucks forward Jared Dudley is here to offer Milwaukee some good and bad news. The good: “The Greek Freak has arrived and is about to take over the league.” The bad: There’s “zero percent” chance LeBron teams up with Giannis.
Minnesota Timberwolves: See: Pacers, Indiana. The biggest free-agency signings in Wolves history might have happened last summer, when Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson put pen to paper, unless you count Kevin Martin’s 2013 sign-and-trade. And if LeBron thought he led the league in being tired after games this season, my guess is playing for Tom Thibodeau won’t help much.
New Orleans Pelicans: Nike did make some pretty sweet LeBron XI Gator King NOLA Gumbo colorways once. But, in an entirely ill-informed conversation, Shannon Sharpe said earlier this season the Rockets weren’t going to sign LeBron because they can’t create the cap space, and then immediately asked Chris Broussard and Skip Bayless, “What if he goes to New Orleans?” — a team that’s up against the cap even before deciding what to do with DeMarcus Cousins or Rajon Rondo. And as much as I kind of like the idea of LeBron in New Orleans, I hope he’s like me and prefers to live in a world where Fox Sports isn’t operating in a vacuum devoid of logic.
New York Knicks: If LeBron isn’t a fan of Dan Gilbert’s, wait until he gets a load of James Dolan. Then again, old friend Charles Oakley has probably kept him abreast of Dolan’s ineptitude. Heck, even Dolan wrote a song about the “living hell” that is owning the Knicks, complete with these lyrics: “Is there any chance we get LeBron James? You must be sniffing glue.” So, yeah.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant conceded, “I don’t want to have to be the leader,” and he couldn’t stand the thought of playing with Russell Westbrook, those teammates and that coach any longer, so you can imagine how a guy who needs to be the leader would feel ceding control to Russ, as respectful as their relationship may be. And imagine LeBron subtweeting Westbrook the way he did Kevin Love. Russ might start throwing cupcakes at Bron mid-game.
Orlando Magic: The only way LeBron is going to Orlando is on a Disney float at season’s end.
Philadelphia 76ers: Like Boston, the Sixers make a lot of sense from a contending standpoint. Philly has Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, two budding superstars who look poised to dominate the league for a decade, and they have the assets to acquire another star. And they can actually absorb LeBron into max cap space. Simmons shares an agent with LeBron, and Embiid can’t stop trying to recruit “the best player in the league,” but the former needs the ball in his hands and the latter is a cult of personality whose approach might not mesh with LeBron off the floor. Oh, and the 76ers don’t have a GM because his wife anonymously trashed the entire franchise.
Phoenix Suns: LeBron will be on his next four-year cycle of changing teams by the time the Suns are ready to contend, and by then they might be better off trying to land LeBron James Jr.
Portland Trail Blazers: LeBron’s ex-teammate Richard Jefferson said, “I really think Portland will be his destination,” then barely kept a straight face through the thought. “They’re only going to have to move their entire roster,” he joked. “He said a positive thing about Damian Lillard in 2008, so he’s definitely going to the Blazers. I’ve seen him wear a blazer on multiple occasions.” (For the record, I like Portland as a LeBron destination, but it’s unclear how they get him there.)
Sacramento Kings: Dude, you’re the Sacramento Kings.
San Antonio Spurs: Hey, LeBron, I know Kawhi is publicly demanding a trade because he feels wronged by his coach, teammates, the medical staff and our entire organization, and he’s made it clear he wants to play for the Lakers, so we’re going to get pennies on the dollar if and when we trade him, but 33-year-old LaMarcus Aldridge is our best player and — I don’t know — maybe 38-year-old Pau Gasol is next? This doesn’t seem like the greatest free-agency pitch.
Toronto Raptors: I’m not sure how or why, but Canada recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch. King James would be a worthy successor, the fit makes sense, and the exchange rate makes his contract go a longer way in Toronto, but LeBron has spent the last two seasons sweeping the Raptors out of the playoffs. Do we really think he’s about to give them a win now?
Utah Jazz: LeBron hasn’t won in Utah since 2010. “I suck here,” he said after losing a seventh straight game to the Jazz. “I personally don’t suck, but my team sucks when we come here.” Vis-à-vis the Jazz would suck if he went there? There’s no reason LeBron shouldn’t consider Utah. Sundance is even a nice place for an entertainment mogul. It just won’t happen, because LeBron and Joe Ingles have the league’s most bitter beef … or at least I like to imagine they do.
Washington Wizards: Even though he calls it “a minor league sports town,” Michael Wilbon posited that D.C. makes the most sense as a destination for LeBron to wield his cultural voice, because he’d be in Donald Trump’s backyard, which makes little sense since he can happily call the president a “bum” from any NBA city. He’d also have to play in the front yard of John Wall and Bradley Beal, who have spent two years thinking LeBron is afraid to play them. He’d really just be scared to join them, because they “have a tendency to dislike each other on the court.” It’s not great when your city’s best selling point is: Hey, you could live closer to Donald Trump.
And there you have it. You can all enjoy your Independence Day now without scrolling through Twitter. Eat your hot dogs and enjoy the fireworks, because LeBron’s not coming to your city.
– – – – – – –