“He left twice, he’ll leave again. He definitely wants to win another championship before he retires.”
Charles Oakley says LeBron James is bound to leave L.A. If true, where would he go? Cleveland makes sense, but so do other cities, according to the odds provided by MaximBet.
Something to remember while you are reading this article: Kevin Love and Collin Sexton for LeBron James works salary cap-wise. And with the NBA trade deadline a week away, it is good to keep that knowledge handy.
The reason we are even bringing that trade idea up is because on a SiriusXM radio podcast Tuesday, Charles Oakley said he expects LeBron to leave the Lakers and play elsewhere, although not this season.
So when? And where?
Well, that is the subject we are broaching today as we take stock of Oakley’s comments, the plight of the Lakers and the Cavs, and the general state of the universe as we see it.
So, let’s start by reminding everyone that when James left the Cavs to join the Lakers, the news came on Black Sports Online from none other than Gary Payton, the retired NBA legend. If that episode taught us anything, it was that retired players often make for great sources. They have great info, they just don’t always have a place to report it.
“He left twice, he’ll leave again,” Oakley said. “He definitely wants to win another championship before he retires. He might have to leave L.A. to get it. I don’t know if it’ll be Cleveland. It might be somewhere else.”
So, when we contemplate the questions of LeBron’s pedigree, how much he has left (plenty) and how much longer he can continue playing at a high level (awhile), the first thing we have to consider is whether he is in Los Angeles long term.
His son, Bronny, is a junior on the Sierra Canyon H.S. team and a 5-star recruit ranked 49th in his class by ESPN. It makes sense on many levels to assume that LeBron will spend the remainder of this season and all of next season with the Lakers so that he can be close to his son all the way through high school.
But after June of 2023 has come and gone (and James’ current contract with the Lakers will have expired), there could be a new destination on James’ landscape … provided he has not already switched teams prior to that in order to increase his chances of winning another title.
“LeBron likes L.A., he likes raising his family in L.A., and his post-career businesses are in L.A.,” ESPN journalist Brian Windhorst told me. “But he’s made it very clear that he wants to play with his son. If that situation is available outside L.A., he’ll pursue it.”
James has always said that one of his life dreams is to play professionally with Bronny, so let’s look at how that night happen (because it might be the only way that the Cavs do not become his next team).
Under current rules, Bronny James will not become draft eligible until one year after his high school class graduates, which is 2023. So Bronny (barring a rule change relating to the one-and-done rule) cannot be drafted until 2024. LeBron’s contract expires after the 2022-23 season, so there is a limbo year facing LeBron unless the one-and-done rule is done away with.
Will the one-and-done rule disappear? Well, the Rice Commission, headed by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, flat out told the NBA and the players union that the one-and-done rule was hurting young athletes and corrupting the college and pro feeder system, and issued a strong recommendation that it should be retired.
But because the NBA and the players union have a historically adversarial relationship, they have an inability to do the right thing even if they can frame it as “a negotiable item.”
Also, since the NBA has gone strong on the G-League feeder system, including the G-League Ignite as an alternative to playing college ball, the chances of the one-and-done rule being scrapped are lessened. But if the NBA and the union feel so inclined to change the rule, it could be done virtually immediately.
“Bronny may not be ready for the NBA at 19, but since he is LeBron James Jr., so he’ll get a chance. But what if Bronny is not ready for the NBA until he’s 20 or 21?” Windhorst said. “Can LeBron wait? The way he’s playing, it looks like he can. So if he moves, it’s more about Bronny than about getting one for the thumb.”
Now, let’s assume that the Lakers flame out at some point in the postseason this spring. At that point, James would have to decide whether he believes the Lakers have the type of roster capable of winning a title. If not, can the necessary changes be made? And if they can’t, would he request a trade and spend most of Bronny’s senior year of high school working in a different city?
“Anything can happen. They still can win. They have to get back to playing defense, and the offense will come,” Oakley said. “They should play new-age basketball and do what Cleveland is doing. Cleveland is playing three 7-footers, and it’s working.”
There are dozens of variables, one of which is the Lakers’ cap situation. They have a payroll of $163 million this season and $148 million next season, which means they are “hard-capped” and have reduced flexibility in making trades.
But if, for instance, they wanted to acquire Ben Simmons for Anthony Davis, that deal would work cap-wise. Of course, James and Davis (and ‘Melo, and Russell Westbrook) did not join forces in order to have their team broken up midseason, so it appears there is a 99.99 percent chance that all of the Lakers’ stars stick around through the postseason.
It’ll be LeBron’s call, and he will likely consult with Rob Pelinka and owner Jeanie Buss to assess the possibilities and options. If, for whatever reason, he wants out, it is hard to see the Lakers saying “no.” They want more superstars to come aboard in the years ahead, and upsetting LeBron is never a good look … which is why the New York Knicks are not listed as a possible destination on the MaximBet NBA futures odds board.
LeBron and Oakley are friends, and LeBron once told Oakley, “that’s why I will never play in New York,” after Oakley relayed a story about Knicks owner James Dolan refusing to shake his hand.
So, we can safely list the Knicks odds as astronomical, although there is always a chance that Dolan somehow has exited the picture by the time LeBron is longing for a new home.
Where else might he go?
James still has a strong relationship with Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra and other members of the Miami Heat organization, and he could do a lot worse than joining forces with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Sixth Man of the Year lock, Tyler Herro.
Miami is capped out for the next two seasons, so James would either have to be acquired in a trade (highly unlikely) or sign as a free agent for the veteran’s minimum (he could afford a reduced paycheck). The scenery ain’t bad, the nightclubs sometimes do not open until 1 a.m. and it is not the worst place to spend an NBA winter.
Dallas also is intriguing because James is already looking at his post-playing career options, and no NBA owner is better equipped to facilitate just about anything James would want—including a political option—than Mark Cuban. Dallas currently has cap space for 2023-24, but the Mavs are also in win-now mode and could take on a player with a long contract between now and then.
Brooklyn would seem to be a decent option if the Kyrie Irving-as-part-time-player thing fails this year and the Nets decide they want to move him. A Kyrie-for-LeBron trade would only work if Brooklyn added in another player with a mid-level salary such as Patty Mills, but it also would require Irving (if this deal happened after this season) to be under contract. Currently, he has a player option for next season at $36.6 million.
Well, you have to assume that James is not going to want to go off the grid in a place like Sacramento or Portland, or to a cold weather city not named Cleveland such as Minneapolis or Toronto.
The other Florida team, the Orlando Magic, is too terrible to be seen as a viable option. The other two teams in Texas (which does not have a state income tax) are the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, and both seem unlikely unless James expressed a desire to play in either city.
The Rockets have no established talent to speak of, and the Spurs are in a rebuild. Still, if Gregg Popovich was presented with an opportunity to have James on the Spurs for a season or two, he is not so hardheaded that he would say “no.”
New Orleans would be a nice place to spend a season or two because no other NBA city can match it for food; Phoenix would work because the Suns are currently No. 1 in the NBA, but they will not have any cap space unless DeAndre Ayton leaves as a free agent, which is possible given that owner Robert Sarver refused to offer Ayton a max contract when he had the opportunity.
Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Atlanta would seem like B-list choices because they all have good teams and should continue to have good teams for the next couple years. Washington is an option because it would bring James close to the seat of the U.S. government, and both the Warriors and the Clippers cannot be ruled out because both already have multiple superstars (injured ones in the Clippers’ case) and would give James the opportunity to continue living in California.
Every other team is an Oklahoma City/Orlando/Sacramento situation.
James is 37, and there is no telling how long he plans to continue playing in the NBA. As we all just learned from Tom Brady, athletes can do magical and wondrous things well into their 40s.
The best bet is that LeBron will keep this interesting. Where will that be? Place your bets. Here are the current odds from MaximBet:
- Cleveland Cavaliers +300
- Miami Heat +400
- Dallas Mavericks +500
- Washington Wizards +500
- New Orleans Pelicans +800
- San Antonio Spurs +1000
- Phoenix Suns +1000
- Golden State Warriors +1000
- Los Angeles Clippers +1500
- Chicago Bulls +1200
- Atlanta Hawks +1500
- Boston Celtics +2000
- Philadelphia 76ers +2500
- New York Knicks +5000
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