LeBron James
LeBron James with his most famous chase down block ever (Photo via NBA.com)

No one truly knows what goes on inside LeBron James’ mind. For the most part, he is very calculated and aware of what he says and the timing to which he says it. In 2014, he sat down with the highly decorated journalist from Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins, and announced to the world where he intended to sign after learning from the ramifications of “The Decision” in 2011.

Fans (and media) must realize that we will receive ZERO indication of his intentions until he is convicted to reveal his decision publicly. However, there is one key component that will give away the Cavaliers intentions with LeBron.

If the Cavaliers keep their 2018 first-round Brooklyn pick, odds are that James is leaving. If the Cavs management thinks the chances of keeping him are low, it would be wise to save that pick for “life after LeBron”. It is important to note that if the Cavaliers trade that pick away, it doesn’t guarantee that LeBron stays. This shows the Cavs management is convinced they can keep him.

LeBron, over time, has presented us suggestions of what he is looking for in a team. What is he interested in?

  • He wants other STAR players handling the basketball/responsibility more. Meaning he doesn’t want to carry the load and do everything night in and night out (like he currently does for the Cavs).
  • He prefers to play with a veteran team – not a team full of young players.
  • He knows to win in the NBA – every team needs wing depth and a superior point guard.
  • While he prefers to play in the East, he will sign in the West if the right team comes calling.
    • I.E. He wants to play for a contender.

With these thoughts in mind, where are the top five destinations for LeBron?

Without further adieu, here are the top five (in order) ideal landing spots for LeBron James based on his preferences.

Houston Rockets

LeBron James
The Houston Rockets need to re-sign Paul to entice LeBron (Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

The Houston Rockets are in an interesting position. Their payroll currently sits at $116,248,045 which is roughly $3 million under the 2017-2018 luxury tax limit of $119,266,000. This offseason, the Rockets lose Chris Paul ($25 million), Trevor Ariza ($7.5 million), Tarik Black ($3.3 million), Clint Capela ($2.3 million – rookie deal), Luc Mbah a Moute ($2.1 million), and Gerald Green ($1.4 million) to free agency.

The Rockets have roughly $80.5 million committed to eight players in 2018 and Ryan Anderson’s contract sticks out like a sore thumb (owed $20 million). If they are able to move him before the trade deadline or this summer, this gives the Rockets a multitude of options moving forward. Even landing the biggest fish in the sea – LeBron James.

Once Anderson’s contract is off the books, the Rockets first priority is re-signing both Chris Paul and Clint Capela. The current 2018 luxury tax limit is $123,000,000. In all likelihood, The Rockets will be over $100 million after trading Anderson and re-signing Paul and Capela. Harden may decide to restructure his contract to make sure they have room.

So, if almost every player involved has to take a discount, how do the Rockets interest LeBron?

After Paul re-signs, the Rockets will have two of the top five point guards in the NBA. LeBron loves the idea of Harden and Paul handling the rock the majority of the time. This team will be composed of veterans who have shown the ability to win. Although they have climbed the mountain that is the Golden State Warriors, LeBron would push them over the top. Other veterans are likely to join and sign for the league minimum. Additionally, the Rockets are one of the few teams in the West that can compete with the Warriors.

Every decision in LBJ’s career, from here on out, involves beating the Warriors (barring any unforeseeable breakup).

San Antonio Spurs

LeBron James
Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are the biggest attractions for LeBron James to the Spurs (Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

While the Rockets contain star power, The Spurs can offer something the Rockets cannot – the best coach in the NBA and another top wing player. Their payroll currently sits at $116,968,092 which is also roughly $3 million under the 2017-2018 luxury tax limit of $119,266,000. The Spurs lose Tony Parker ($15.5 million), Kyle Anderson ($2.1 million – rookie deal), Davis Bertans ($1.3 million), and Bryn Forbes ($1.3 million) to free agency this offseason.

The Spurs are on the hook for $98 million in 2018 salaries, but that number drops to $72 million if they are able to move LaMarcus Aldridge. It’s rather obvious the Spurs need to move him this offseason. If the Spurs are looking to move LaMarcus and they think they have a shot to sign LeBron, they should add wing depth and a veteran point guard (if they opt not to re-sign Tony Parker).

Many people believe LeBron “isn’t interested in playing under Popovich” and that’s absurd. Gregg Popovich is one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time. What player wouldn’t want to be taught by him? Not only would he play under Pop, but he would play alongside Kawhi Leonard, arguably the best two-way wing in the league.

The Spurs also have veteran pieces around him to make a run, albeit in the Western Conference. But the Spurs are, again, one of the few teams that LeBron would bolt away to the West for. But the biggest advantage the Spurs have is offering two things other teams can’t – Pop and Leonard and I think it is in LeBron’s best interest to entertain the idea of a buying a home in San Antonio.

Milwaukee Bucks

LeBron James
Imagine the length of this Bucks team if you add LeBron James to the mix (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

While the Milwaukee Bucks are a “small market” team, I don’t think it will hinder LeBron’s decision. LeBron has played in a “small market” town before (Cleveland) so I am nipping that reasoning in the bud before we begin.

Imagine a team with Giannis Antetokounmpo, a (hopefully) healthy Jabari Parker, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, and LeBron James. Although, those five players total roughly $85.5 million (assuming Parker gets $15 million a year and LeBron gets $30 million per year). That doesn’t leave much cap space for “the other guys”. However, in this league, owner’s have to be willing to go deep into the luxury tax to build a contender.

The Bucks have an impressive point guard in Bledsoe, insane wing depth with Giannis, Jabari, and LeBron, and it is a fairly young team. Only one player is over the age of 30 next season (Mirza Teletovic). While they are young, they aren’t inexperienced. Players enter the league around age 19-20. The 2018 average age per player on the Bucks is 26; which means they are just now hitting their stride. Experts identify the ages of 26-29 the “basketball prime age”.

The Bucks have two players that are capable of handling the basketball and carrying the load in Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe, the Bucks are hitting their prime age as a team, and he would remain in the Eastern Conference.

The more you dive into it, the more Milwaukee makes sense.

Los Angeles Clippers

LeBron James
It appears the Clippers are keeping both DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams (Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

Why people are counting out the Clippers is beyond me. Every major free agent over the last 2-3 years has sat in meetings with Clippers ownership and special advisor Jerry West, whom LeBron is extremely fond of. Have the Clippers been able to close them? No. But that all could change with LeBron.

Also – THIS IS L.A. WITHOUT LAVAR BALL.

Please read that statement one more time if you need to as you may not understand how important this is.

The Clippers have a history of ineptitude and can never seem to get over the hump. However, I don’t think this affects LeBron’s decision at all.

The Clippers first priorities will be trading Danilo Gallinari’s ludicrous contract and re-signing Avery Bradley who is one of the best two-way guards in the NBA. Bradley will come at a cost, but he is worth it. Once that is ironed out, the Clippers are sitting around $107 million in roster cap which means they have roughly $16 million until the luxury tax threshold. However, Steve Balmer should be willing to pay whatever.

Over the last four seasons, the cross-town rivalry Lakers have finished last (three times) and second to last (once) and the Clippers haven’t capitalized whatsoever. The entire L.A. market is open because the Lakers haven’t been relevant and the Clippers have nothing to show for it.

This is their chance to make up for that.

The Clippers have a great defending point guard and dead-eye shooter in Patrick Beverly, another scoring aficionado in Lou Williams, one of the best two-way guards in the NBA in Avery Bradley, length and wing depth with Tobias Harris who is averaging a career-high 18 points this season, and an electric, defensive big-man in DeAndre Jordan. Add LeBron James to this mix and that’s one dangerous lineup.

They will need to add bench depth and should consider trading Austin Rivers once the season is over for more veteran depth.

Now that Blake Giffin is out of town, is there a chance Chris Paul also signs back in L.A. this offseason? Probably not, but it would increase L.A.’s chances if they land LeBron.

 

Philadelphia 76ers

LeBron James
How fun would the 76ers be with the addition of LeBron James (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

Philadelphia was once a staple team in the NBA. Honestly, they haven’t been relevant Allen Iverson circa 2001 when they lost to Kobe and Shaq in the finals. The last time they won a playoff game was 2011. Coming off an Eagles Super Bowl win, Philly is licking its chops for more success in sports (they won’t get it from the Phillies – the Phillies suck).

Entering 2018, the 76ers only have $69.8 million committed to players on their roster. Signing LeBron ups them to around $100 million and leaves the potential to add one or two more key impact players depending on who they sign.

Although the 76ers are an extremely young team, LeBron would stay in the East, and play with rising superstars like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with the capability of signing extra help. (Can you imagine LeBron and Embiid running the pick and roll?)

While they don’t have many veterans, they have pieces of interest for LeBron. A dominant center and an incredibly athletic point guard/forward. I imagine the 76ers will re-sign J.J. Redick and have the potential to land another star this offseason depending on what Joshua Harris is willing to pay.

The 76ers, as of now, aren’t contenders but with Lebron’s arrival, could entice other superstars to join him.

LeBron is still killing it in year 15. Heck, last night, against the T-Wolves, he recorded 37 points, 10 rebounds, and 15 assists and the game winner. Here are some of last night’s highlights.

But, we all know Father Time comes knocking eventually. Let’s hope LeBron finds a contender by then so when the dust settles at the end of his Hall-of-Fame career, we can finally crown him the greatest basketball player of all time.

If you were LeBron, where would you sign?