LOS ANGELES — The loudest cheers weren’t for the hometown Clippers. They were for a player on the other team.
Since the Cavaliers were in town, people turned out at Staples Center to see LeBron James Friday night. Precisely 19,130 flooded Downtown LA to see The King, many sporting No. 23 jerseys. Cavs fans or, maybe more accurately, LeBron enthusiasts, just wanted to witness greatness.
So when he ran onto the court to join the rest of his teammates on the layup line before tip, the roar in the arena was pretty damn loud. Every Dunk Contest worthy slam during warmups—including one he tried to throw off the shot clock—was met with a thousand “oohs,” “ahs,” and iPhone pics. When he swooped to the basket during the game, or when the took a defender off the dribble, or when he looked up court after grabbing a rebound to start a fast break, the entire building held its breath.
Relatively speaking, LeBron didn’t disappoint, even if his team did. The game’s leading scorer in a 116-102 Clippers victory—James had 25 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists—the result wasn’t the storyline as much as James’s future was.
Billboards, recruiting pitches, and wild speculation aside, James has one more game in Los Angeles before he’s done with the city for the 2017-18 campaign and all the talk heading into Sunday’s game with the Lakers will be about LA-Bron and whether he’d really take his talents here.
James, as we all know, is on the clock. A free agent this summer, where he’s going to sign come July is anybody’s guess since even those closest to him reportedly have no idea where he wants to play ball next season.
LeBron belongs in the East. He should stay there and continue to dominate the East for as long as his superhuman body allows.
And while LA seemingly makes sense for a number of obvious reasons, when you think about it for—oh, I don’t know, five seconds—why would LeBron pick LA?
Both LA squads should have cap space to go after big time free agents. But we can eliminate one of them because James is not going to hitch his wagon to the Clippers because, well, it’s the Clippers. Owner Steve Ballmer and management are doing all they can to change the culture around the club. And while they’ve done a commendable job, it ain’t happening.
The Lakers, of course, are widely expected to make a serious push to land LeBron and we all know the lure of the franchise’s storied history, devoted fan base, and assemblage of young talent with the ability to add two max players this summer makes it an attractive destination. And, oh yeah, the weather’s a hell of a lot nicer than Northern Ohio.
LeBron and the Lakers makes sense for other reasons, like the fact James owns two houses in Los Angeles, spends time here in the off-season, and has business ventures in the entertainment industry. But LeBron would be nuts to play in the West and the one thing we know about him after witnessing his greatness for 15 seasons is he’s no idiot.
At 33, and with his prime on the verge of ending—because, let’s face it, how much longer can he keep this superhuman level of play up when history has shown the productivity of basketball’s best players wanes once they turn 32—James should stay where he’s at.
Refuting a report by The Ringer that he’s only considering four franchises in free agency— Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston, and Cleveland—LeBron would be best served re-upping with the Cavs and hoping general manager Koby Altman can continue to work his magic with roster upgrades and that his frenemy Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner, continues to pay handsomely/excessively for deep runs into June.
The Eastern Conference is still the LeBron James Invitational, will be for at least a few more seasons until LeBron shows us he’s human and not a machine. Kyrie Irving and the Celtics pose a threat—especially if Gordon Hayward returns to old form next season. But do we really believe they can get over the hump? The Raptors, owners of the best record in the conference, are balling out right now. But what have they shown us in the playoffs previously? Any other squad scare the Cavs in the East? The Sixers, maybe in another year or two?
And speaking of the Sixers, Philadelphia makes for an intriguing landing spot for LeBron and The Process zealots love speculating about it. But it’s not happening. How are Ben Simmons and LeBron James going to co-exist on a basketball court together for 82 games? They’re carbon copies of each other, just with a 12-year age difference.
LeBron should just stay with the Cavs, keep signing one-year deals with a player option for the second season, and continue to basically run the organization as the quasi general manager. Mold the team the way he wants, coast through the regular season, then flip the switch in the playoffs.
Yes, this Cavs team is probably the most flawed and vulnerable of all the Cavs teams LeBron has played on during his second run with them. It still needs help defensively. And badly needs Kevin Love, who should be back very soon. But with the Cavs, and in the East, LeBron is best positioned to continue to try and add to his Larry O’Brien Trophy collection for the next few years. He should avoid the Western Conference like it’s the plague and the Los Angeles squads are seemingly the only logical landing spot for him out there. Houston’s capped out. No room at the inn unless they truly shake shit up.
So he can take advantage of the horrendous balance of power in the NBA for a few more seasons. The Eastern Conference probably isn’t attracting any massive free agent that’s going to drastically change the landscape. You think Paul George is headed back to the East? Boogie Cousins isn’t. Chris Paul isn’t. Where’s DeAndre Jordan going? Kevin Durant? Snowball’s chance in hell he leaves Golden State and signs with a team in the East.
LeBron belongs in the East. He should stay there and continue to dominate the East for as long as his superhuman body allows. And for a player as savvy and calculated as he is, maybe more so than any other NBA player we’ve seen in recent history, I bet that's been the plan the whole time.