We know the Warriors are set for a couple more years. We know the Cavs are set for one more year, though there will be some tinkering. As much fun as it is to speculate about the departure of Kevin Love, it’s much more likely the Cavs just make tweaks to the roster, like bringing in a 3-and-D guy to defend Kevin Durant (Thabo Sefalosha?), and fortifying their bench with ring chasers (Vince Carter?).
The real story is whether or not LeBron will stick around the Cavs next summer, when he’ll be 33 years old and hit free agency. Assuming he’s healthy next season (his 15th in the league), the 2nd best player in NBA history has a legit chance to make a 3rd enormous free agent move: Going to the Lakers in 2018.
Before we get to the beauty of a fast break being driven by Lonzo Ball, with Brandon Ingram floating the 3-point line and LeBron filling the lane, let’s look at two awful contracts on LA’s books they must solve before dreaming of LeBron: Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov.
Fueled with new TV money, the Lakers spent like drunken sailors in the summer of 2016, giving Deng a 4-year, $72 million deal, and Mozgov 4-years, $64 million. Both are brutal deals that will only look worse in the summer of 2018, when the Lakers could make a run at LeBron.
Deng will be owed $36.8 million; Mozgov $32.7 million. It won’t be easy to unload nearly $70 million, and it’ll cost them a couple 1st round picks to get someone to take that package. More bad news: The Lakers may not have 1st round picks in 2018 or 2019 (see here.)
We’re still a year out, and plenty of things could go down this summer to throw off this plan. Here’s LA’s projected cap figures for next season, and things don’t look that bad, until you account for the other real reason the Lakers could be attractive to LeBron: Paul George.
Can the Lakers possibly afford LeBron and Paul George next summer? Well they’ll definitely have to unload Deng or Mozgov – or perhaps both – before the dreams begin coming close to fruition. One would think they’d mortgage the 2020 1st round pick, and surely D’Angelo Russell or Julius Randle by whatever means necessary. A Ball-Ingram-LeBron-Paul George core would instantly be among the league’s elite.
And I’ll toss this one in, just for fans of the Eastern Conference: As attractive as Los Angeles is for LeBron, going West would mean a showdown with the Warriors in the playoffs … before the Finals. And as LeBron ages, he’ll want to rest more during the season, and you gotta ask yourself: The best three players not currently on the Warriors or Cavs are in the West (James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard). Why would you want to run through that gauntlet just to face the Warriors?