Speculation about LeBron James’ future has been running rampant lately, and it’s time we join the fun. With the NBA Finals over, James can become a free agent this offseason and figures to have, oh, 30 interested teams.
Today’s question: With plenty of potential landing spots, what team should (not will) James choose?
First take: Michael Rand
Yes, I’ve watched LeBron try to pull a bunch of anonymous players up to his level in Cleveland this season. The fact that this team even reached the NBA Finals feels alternately like a miracle and a testament to his greatness.
But even with that in mind, I think the best decision for LeBron would be a return to Cleveland. If he leaves again, I think it could have an impact on his legacy. If he creates another superteam and wins titles, he’s a ring-chaser. If he creates a superteam and doesn’t win titles, it’s even worse.
If the stays in Cleveland and is patient enough for his home state franchise to reshape its roster for more legitimate title runs, he’s bulletproof. Either he wins and gets the credit or loses and deflects blame.
Chris Hine: But the clock is ticking. He’s 33 and how much longer can he play at the level he did this season? Not even James is immune to time.
He can’t wait for a mini-rebuild in Cleveland, so he should go to the team that offers him the best chance to win now outside of Golden State — Houston, the team that almost eliminated the Warriors in the Western Conference.
Without getting bogged down in salary cap confusion, Houston could pull a deal to allow James to play with James Harden and Chris Paul.
The question would be about fit. Harden likes to have the ball and so does Paul. Houston plays iso-ball and had the fewest passes of any team this season. But Cleveland had a similar style — it was fourth-to-last in passing.
Having Harden and Paul take over for stretches, like Kyrie Irving once did, would allow James to conserve his energy, something he has been deft at this season, while his team doesn’t suffer on the offensive end.
Rand: I agree that competitively that makes some sense (though he would run the risk of having his streak of reaching the NBA Finals stopped in the West).
I just think that in the court of public opinion, showing up in Houston would not cast James in a positive light. If he cares about his legacy, he should stay put.
Hine: That’s what NBA heads said when he moved to Miami, but that has faded. Nothing adds to your legacy like titles. Veterans such as Paul and Harden might be able to adjust their styles of play and accommodate James easier than, say, two young whippersnappers in Philadelphia like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Rand: If he hadn’t already left once, I’d say this is the perfect time. But the greatest NBA player I’ve ever seen (there, I said it) shouldn’t be moving from team to team like a rental. Everyone should be coming to him, even if it’s in Cleveland.
Final word: Hine
But who would want to move to Cleveland?
More Rand: startribune.com/RandBall
More Hine: startribune.com/NorthScore