Can anything keep LeBron in Cleveland?
Entering the 2017-18 season, rumors started to surface around LeBron James' future upon his upcoming option year. The four-time MVP is known for keeping his cards close to his chest, evident in his former free agency decisions in 2010 and 2014. But in this occasion, unlike the previous two, it seems to be that the King has already decided to leave, the only question is where to.
LeBron was always some sort of a superstar, first appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated at only 17, before going as the first overall pick to Cleveland Cavaliers a year later. He was described as "The Chosen One" and was destined to be one of the greatest. But even with all that in mind, fans trusted in him to stay and lead the team to a title, even when he wasn’t getting enough help.
And he did stay true for the first seven years of his career, becoming the franchise's all-time leading scorer and top 5 in almost every major category. He even got the team to the finals in 2007, first time ever for the Cavs' franchise, with a very limited set of players to play with. He was the main piece of the team and the city was considered a big part of him too. So big that even though he had a very mediocre roster, a lot of people still counted on him to stay.
So why does staying now seems so much improbable than it did in the past?
In 2010, Cavs fans believed that his connection to his hometown was strong enough to keep him in Cleveland. But that proved wrong when LeBron decided to go to Miami Heat, putting his title dreams first. Four years later, 2014, LeBron managed to win two titles with Miami and faced another big decision. If you were a Heat fan, you would think his friendship with Dwyane Wade and their success together would keep James with the team. That proved wrong again when LeBron rejoined his old team to try and achieve hometown success.
Now we are back in 2018. LeBron achieved his goal of getting Cleveland that elusive NBA title two years ago, perhaps excusing himself from any obligation he had to the city, but also managed to drive the teams' former first overall pick and second best player, Kyrie Irving, to demand a trade. As we know now, that trade caused a chain effect, eventually picking the team apart, leaving it with players either old and overpaid or young and underwhelming.
Taking LeBron to an eighth straight final seems impossible, but it might be Cleveland's only chance of re-signing the King. The cap situation for next year (38M+ over the cap, including LeBron's option year) will make it impossible for the Cavs to attract top free agents, and the only real asset they can trade is their lottery pick from Brooklyn. Considering Cleveland is not the most glamorous place on earth, to say the least, and that the team will have to go through a serious shakeup in order to become contenders again, LeBron will seek change in one of those departments at least before making a final decision.
A team like the Los Angeles Lakers, for example, playing in a city appealing to James and his multiple side businesses is an obvious favorite. But it's also the promising young roster and impressive coaching of Luke Walton that can attract him. Even though they were a lottery team, the Lakers showed a lot of character this season and played tough defense all around. Under the leadership of Magic Johnson and the bright lights of the city of angels, LeBron could find himself a very comfortable place to contend for a title and perhaps end his career.
He might even prefer the currently more successful Philadelphia 76ers, though less luxurious of a place, Philly has a lot to offer on their roster. Just thinking of this intimidating starting lineup composed of players standing 6'8'' tall and above without sacrificing too much agility and speed should make the entire league afraid. LeBron will have to decide between those two and perhaps others this summer, but an under-talented, poorly directed Cavs won't be on that list.