The bookmakers usually have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. The fact that the Lakers are considered the favorites to land LeBron James should grab your attention.
If you’re also buying the narrative that The King, who can officially become a free agent Friday, is taking his talents to Los Angeles, and that all other options are trash in comparison, slow your roll. There are a number of reasons why LeBron and Los Angeles does not make sense, some of which I outlined back in March, when James made his second to last regular season appearance in LA. Maybe the strongest argument for James not signing with the Lakers is an idea that’s such a no-brainer it’s easy to overlook.
All credit goes to the star of Complex’s Out of Bounds, Gilbert Arenas, who first blessed yours truly and a few others behind the scenes of the show with his theory on LeBron’s impending free agency. Considering Arenas knows a thing or two about how the league really works, you should be paying attention.
LeBron and Los Angeles—really the Lakers, because, come on, he ain’t taking his talents to the Clippers—will not happen because it would be bad for the league.
“The league won’t allow him to leave the east,” says Arenas. “If the villain or the hero of the east joins the west, that destroys the NBA. There’s no reason to watch the Eastern Conference at that point. The whole East Coast basketball vibe is done.”
"You’re going to take the best player on the planet out of the east and put him in the west, as the commissioner I’m going to beg him please do not leave the east."
Can the league really prevent LeBron from going West? No, it cannot. But can they twist his arm, plead, persuade, prod, even bitch and moan, and talk all the slick talk to convince him to stay in the East? Sure. And they should because, competitively speaking, the NBA has been unbalanced for years, arguably decades since the last days of Michael Jordan’s run with the Bulls. The Western Conference holds nine of the game’s top 10 players. The two best teams, by far, reside out west. The league revamped the All-Star Game, partly, because the talent discrepancy between the two conferences isn’t so much a gap as it is a gigantic chasm. So would it really be good for the game if LeBron ends up with the Lakers and the Western Conference tips the scales of dominance to a degree we haven’t seen in the modern NBA?
Sure, you can fight me on the argument that LeBron playing in the second biggest media market in the country and headlining Showtime’s revival in Staples Center would actually be awesome for the league. Among the most storied franchises in basketball, the Lakers have stalled out trying to rebuild over the past five seasons. Their return to prominence, featuring LeBron, undoubtedly would be huge for the league. Jersey sales, ratings, ad sales, tickets, interest…you can list plenty of business reasons why it would be a boon for the NBA’s bottom line. But is it ideal? Does the league really need it? Does it really want it?
It shouldn’t because LeBron taking his talents to the City of Angels would make the Eastern Conference, already the Western Conference’s ugly step-sister, borderline irrelevant. Your argument that up and coming teams in Boston and Philadelphia could carry the torch in LeBron’s absence sounds cute and all, but they pale in comparison to the number of eyeballs LeBron brings, whether it’s the regular season or, more importantly, the postseason. When the overall health of the league is dependent on TV ratings and attention, what would be the point of paying attention to an Eastern Conference void of any superstars casual fans give a shit about? Maybe check back in during the Eastern Conference Finals before either Philly or Boston gets washed in the Finals by the Warriors, Rockets, or LeBron’s Lakers. If you think Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum are really moving the needle, or Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, that deserves a handwave.
“You’re going to take the best player on the planet out of the East and put him in the West, as the commissioner I’m going to beg him please do not leave the East,” says Arenas. “I don’t give a fuck what team you pick, just don’t leave the Eastern Conference.”
It’s yet another juicy conspiracy theory involving LeBron for NBA fans to sink their teeth into from a league that arguably produces the best ones in all of sports. If you don’t believe in NBA conspiracy theories, or aren’t at least mildly fascinated by them, are you really an NBA fan? The league persuading LeBron to say in the easy wouldn’t quite rank up there with the (alleged) frozen envelope that secured Patrick Ewing to the Knicks in 1985 or Michael Jordan (allegedly) being exiled from the league over his gambling predilections. But it would add to the league’s lore for sure.
James will reportedly make his decision by July 4th. If that decision is to leave Cleveland, at least Cavs fans can conveniently light up his jersey with all the fireworks on hand. But if you believe in NBA conspiracy theories—and, again, you should—then expect Cleveland—or maybe Miami, but probably not Philadelphia or Boston and definitely not New York—to have a festive Fourth. Because The King will not be taking his talents to Los Angeles and the Lakers.