I went through all 30 NBA salary cap situations this week in an effort to solve the biggest NBA question: Which teams are going to have the cap space to pursue LeBron James and whatever star he wants to join forces with in July 2018?
When LeBron formed the Super Heat, he got Chris Bosh to join him; when he formed the Super Cavs, he orchestrated the Kevin Love trade. You’ll hear people credit Pat Riley or David Griffin, and they certainly were integral to the process. But you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think Lebron James, the most powerful athlete in American sports for the better part of the last decade, didn’t orchestrate both.
I could only find a handful of teams that could logistically go after LeBron one year from now if he decides to leave the Cavaliers because the team is simply too old, and owner Dan Gilbert drives him away: The Lakers (best situation), the Celtics (unsure if he’d want to go there) and believe it or not, the Philadelphia 76ers.
I wrote this recently. I went on Colin Cowherd’s show and talked about it.
Make no mistake: The Lakers are the favorites right now to land Paul George and LeBron in 2018. When LeBron has washed his hands from billionaire Dan Gilbert after next season, he can go West and play with two young, “home grown” stars in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. Toss in Paul George, who barring a miracle of epic proportions, won’t stay in Oklahoma City. Under the guidance of mogul Magic Johnson, LeBron could try to capture his 4th Title.
How do the Lakers do this? Well, they got rid of the Mozgov contract. Next up: Luol Deng. Magic’s got one more Jim Buss mistake to clean up, and he’s going to have to overpay somebody to take that off his hands. It’d be worth it for LeBron, who will be 33 and a half years old when he hits free agency next July.
The idea of LeBron not wanting to go to the loaded West … I tried to shoot that down here. Look yourself in the mirror and say this out loud: LeBron doesn’t want to go West because of the Minnesota Timberwolves or the Houston Rockets.
It’s the East. It’s a team with a great young roster, a surplus of young talent, an arsenal of future 1st round draft picks. Landing Gordon Hayward made them jump through several financial hoops, and questions loom about next year’s decisions about fan-favorite Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley.
They’re actually loaded on the wing with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum plus Howard. The beauty of this team is its flexibility.
They can pair Al Horford with a couple first round picks and teams will listen. They could throw four 1st round picks at Anthony Davis. Even Russell Westbrook could be an option at the trade deadline or next summer if his partnership with Paul George goes south (unlikely, but who knows). Boston’s got options, and that should scare the hell out of everyone.
If Jerry West had decided to keep Chris Paul and let Blake Griffin walk, maybe they’d have had a shot at LeBron. That would have certainly been a gamble given Paul’s age and injury history. So they went with Griffin, and just added Danilo Gallinari. Also, there was this report. They’re at 0.0% chance of landing LeBron.
I looked at Miami, but Pat Riley would have to move heaven and earth (again) in able to lure LeBron in 2018. Hassan Whiteside is making $24.4 million that year, then $27 million in 2019-2020. Goran Dragic will make $37.3 million in those two years (unless he opts-out, which at the moment, seems unlikely), and then there’s the crazy poison pill contract of Tyler Johnson, the backup point guard who will make $38.5 million in those two years (and there’s no way he’s opting out of that).
Plus, of course, things ended very ugly between Pat Riley and LeBron.
Riley told his lieutenant, Andy Elisburg, to get the two championship trophies LeBron had won and pack them in their hard-shell carrying cases. Elisburg also brought charts and an easel for a presentation about the free agents the Heat would pursue. The day of the meeting, a hotel bellhop followed them with a luggage cart carrying the presentation and the two trophies. Riley brought wine from a Napa vineyard named Promise. It was the same label Maverick Carter had presented Riley with when they did the deal four years earlier. Riley respects Carter, and when he walked into the suite and saw James with agent Rich Paul and friend Randy Mims but no Maverick, part of him knew the meeting wasn’t sincere. He told Elisburg to keep the trophies and easel in the hall. James and his associates were watching a World Cup game, which they kept glancing at during the presentation. At one point, Riley asked if they’d mute the TV.
Yeah, not happening.
NEW YORK KNICKS
I really, really wanted to put the Knicks on this list, but then I looked at what Phil Jackson did, and they’re giving $38 million to Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas in 2018-2019, and then a staggering $39.4 million to that same trio in 2019-2020. So no, the Knicks do not have a shot at LeBron in 2018.
Even with Phil Jackson gone … 0.0% chance.
Before anyone considers the pipe dream of LeBron playing for Michael Jordan in Charlotte … no. Absolutely no shot. The Hornets are in salary cap hell for the next few years, with names like Nicolas Batum ($25.5 million in 2019!) and Marvin Williams ($15 million in 2019!), chewing up big salaries. They recently traded for Dwight Howard, who has two more years, and $47 million left on his contract.
A team that has been tanking for four seasons? We can start this discussion here – if the 76ers are healthy this season and win 45-50 games and win a round in the playoffs, eyes will perk up around the NBA. The potential is there for this team to be very good, very quickly.
The health issue is large, obviously, and the strides they make this season are paramount to any LeBron-to-Philly discussion. But two enormous points that must be considered: 1) The East is certainly weaker than the West, and LeBron could waltz to the Conference Finals with the 76ers; 2) They’ll have enormous amounts of salary cap room next summer. They currently have 0 bad contracts on the books. They have excellent young assets if they need to create room (say, trading Jeryd Bayless, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric) for LeBron and a friend.