The Lakers just got a whole lot better, but Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City and Boston are all still in the mix
The decision of LeBron James to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night was neither a surprise or a head-shaker. But it sure did shake up the NBA.
It certainly was not about cash, because he already has enough to nurture countless generations of little prince and princesses to come. Even though Cleveland could have paid abundantly more, James now has another $154 million at his disposal over four years. Do not shed a tear for him.
No, this was about lifestyles of the rich and famous and new professional challenges. He will be close to his two California homes, valued at $44 million, the second of which, bought in 2017, encompasses 15,846 square feet and has an elevator, according to Trulia, the real estate site.
He has his movie production company, easy access to his son LeBron, Jr.’s new school, and will have the opportunity to help rebuild a once iconic franchise. And he will have at least though the 2021-22, when he will be 37, to try.
So just like Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal before him, he has traveled east to west for a new adventure.
So what does this mean for the remainder of the NBA, especially the team he left behind for the second time?
Here’s a history lesson: After James signed with the Miami Heat in 2010, that season’s Cavaliers won only 19 games, a 42-game differential from the previous season that is an NBA record. And during the four years he was gone, winning three titles along the way, Cleveland was 97-215 and didn’t make the playoffs once.
That is why Las Vegas oddsmakers immediately listed the Cavaliers a 500-1 underdog to win the NBA championship this season. The Lakers are 9-2 to win it.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are ready to roll again after not making the playoffs since 2012-13 and not winning a postseason series since winning their second straight NBA title for Phil Jackson in 2009-10.
The Lakers now join Golden State, Houston and Oklahoma City as the preeminent teams in the Western Conference. And James’ departure shifts the league’s power to the west, especially when one considers that only four of the 15 players who made the All-NBA team this season still play in the Eastern Conference.
Their effort to rebuild took a hit before James signed when Paul George resisted the temptation to jump by deciding Friday to stay in Oklahoma City. Then soon after James signed, the Lakers reached an agreement with shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a one-year, $12 million deal.
Then the Lakers snatched Lance Stephenson from Indiana and center JaVale McGee from the Warriors. Next, the Lakers may take a closer look at putting together a deal for Kawhi Leonard, who so desperately wants out of San Antonio. But even if they can’t get Leonard for next season, he will be a free agent once 2018-19 is done and there are indications its next to James that he wants to be.
What’s certain is that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager, likely will not overact. You’ll recall that they basically have their jobs because Mitch Kupchak gave Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov just under $140 million. And how did that work out?
Can the Lakers rise to the top this season? Likely not.
Even though the Rockets lost Trevor Ariza to Phoenix, they signed Chris Paul to a four-year, $160 million deal and still have the inside track to retain Clint Capela.
Golden State, the defending champion, just re-signed Kevin Durant with a one-year deal and player option for 2019-20, which means he could conceivably join James – as might Klay Thompson, also a free agent after this season.
And what of the Eastern Conference, which James helped Cleveland dominate since returning from Miami in 2014?
For the last three seasons, the Cavaliers have tormented Toronto in the playoffs, needing only 14 games to blow the Raptors away. But Toronto re-signed Fred VanVleet and always have DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to depend on.
The Celtics lost a seven-game series to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals last season with James, who played 48 minutes in Game 7, scoring 35 points with 15 rebounds and nine assists in the win. But remember, they got that far without Gordon Hayward, lost for the season just five minutes its opener at Cleveland, and Kyrie Irving, who was lost to knee surgery on the eve of the playoffs.
Boston has already re-signed center Aron Baynes (two years, $11 million). Perhaps now they will be able to also afford restricted free agent Marcus Smart to help support Al Horford and first-round pick Robert Williams, if the Celtics can get him out of bed in time to make his flight to Boston for rookie camp.
Philadelphia, the NBA new sexy, have already lost two of their four free agents, Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee) and Marco Belinelli (San Antonio). But with Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick, who has a better core? Still, they must deal next season with the repercussions over the dismissal of Bryan Colangelo, the president of basketball operations, after the Twitter scandal involving he and his wife.
It’s incredible to think that the movement of just one player could cause so much havoc in such a talented-filled league. But’s what a king can do.