Where will LeBron James end up? While not frequently discussed, New Orleans may actually be his best possible destination.
The most anticipated event of the 2018 NBA Offseason is without a doubt “The LeBron James Decision: Part III”. After a season that ended in another NBA Finals defeat for LeBron and the Cavaliers, there is much speculation as to whether LeBron will decide to leave Cleveland for the second time. This time, however, LeBron won’t be chasing his first ring. The King is going on Year 16, age 34, at seemingly super-human speed with three rings in the bank and looking to add more to his already cemented legacy.
Below are the current odds highlighting where the “pros” think LeBron will end up. As it stands, the Lakers are the favorite at this time. In LA, LeBron would have a chance to lead a team of young stars with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma already on their roster. The team also has the ability to open a second “max slot” for another star free agent to join James. For the better part of two years, it was clear that Paul George would fill the spot. However, after a decent first season in Oklahoma City playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams, there have been recent indications that PG13 may stay put, possibly hindering LaLa Land’s chances of swaying The King.
The other heavily rumored spot for LeBron’s services has been Philadelphia, where he’d join a talented young core of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The issue with Philadelphia is Simmons would be forced to play off the ball, which is not his strong suit. Not to forget, Joel Embiid’s injury history has to be a major red flag in the eyes of LeBron. Houston, while they remain one of the betting favorites, remains as an outsider because of the difficulty of transactions it will take that will create the signing possible.
The Cavaliers remain in the picture simply because its home for LeBron. To put it frankly, their roster is subpar and it showed during the postseason when James had no choice but to completely carry to load all the way to the Finals. Koby Altman may have some tricks up his sleeve (cough Kawhi Leonard), but with the Cavaliers cap situation, it will be difficult for them to make major changes this offseason. Nevertheless, staying in Cleveland could be easy for The King because again, its home.
Photo Credit: CBS Sports
While the above table indicates the current favorites for LeBron, as seen in 2010 when he left Cleveland the first time, he may not do what everyone expects of him. The destination I’m about to present, while obviously a major long shot, is one that LeBron James should certainly look into. That destination, is the New Orleans Pelicans.
Last season, the Pelicans reached the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2007-08 before succumbing to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors. The Pelicans were a bit of a surprise, finishing the regular season with a 48-34 record after losing star forward DeMarcus Cousins to a torn achilles in late-January. Cousins injury prompted Anthony Davis to step up in a major way, where he averaged 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game on the way to becoming a finalist for NBA Most Valuable Player and a member of the All-NBA Defensive First Team. The Pelicans were also fueled by guard Jrue Holiday, who averaged a career-best 19 points per game to go along with 6 assists and joined Davis on the All-NBA Defensive First Team. The mid-season acquisition of three-point sharpshooter Nikola Mirotic certainly didn’t hurt, as well as head coach Alvin Gentry, a coach who certainly does not receive enough credit, ensured starting point guard Rajon Rondo had his head on straight for the entire ride.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman
With Cousins coming off of the torn achilles, there have been rumblings that Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps has reservations about bringing him back on a max-contract. While the Pelicans can choose to offer Cousins a smaller contract in terms of dollars and years, this would seemingly open the door for Cousins to find another destination. Especially with how the Pelicans performed after Cousins’ injury (21-13), its certainly possible that they let him walk out the door.
Still, it is clear that the Pelicans are missing that one piece that could put them over the hump. Like almost every other team in the NBA not named the Golden State Warriors, that player is LeBron James. Pairing James with Davis and Holiday would almost certainly put the Pelicans over the hump. The pairing of James and Davis alone would rival that of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. The Pelicans biggest issue when they faced off against the Warriors was they had no one who could guard Durant. Bring LeBron into the fold, he certainly has that capability. Not to forget, with the added manpower on the offensive side of the ball, James can focus more on the defensive side of the game.
A simple reason why it doesn’t make a ton of sense for LeBron to go to Philadelphia is because Ben Simmons needs the ball in his hands to dominate the game. Simmons is still a jump-shot away from being a true star in the league, and with the way that LeBron dominates a game, he needs to be surrounded by shooters. Jrue Holiday has evolved into a tremendous guard who thrives both on and off the ball, and can be a weapon both on the inside and outside (eFG% 49.4% last season). With Mirotic spotting up on the three-point arc, James will have another reliable option to knock down pivotal shots when he drives and dishes, something the Cavaliers had major trouble with throughout their postseason run.
Dell Demps would need to get creative to sign LeBron James, but the ramifications of the potential move would certainly change the landscape of the Western Conference and the NBA in general. Re-signing Rajon Rondo to a team-friendly contract would be an added bonus. Imagine this lineup:
PG: Rajon Rondo (8.3 PPG, 8.2 AST)
SG: Jrue Holiday (19 PPG, 6 AST, All-NBA Defensive First Team)
SF: LeBron James (Stats Not Necessary, 8 Consecutive NBA Finals, Played Every Game in Year 15)
PF: Nikola Mirotic (15.6 PPG, 7.4 REB, 37.7% 3P%)
C: Anthony Davis (5th ASG Appearance; 28.1 PPG, 11.1 REB, 2.6 BLK, 28.9 PER, All-NBA Defensive First Team)
The Pelicans would be able to get creative and could bring Mirotic off the bench. Alongside him, E’Twaun Moore had a very solid end of the season last year, as well as Solomon Hill and potential low-salary options that follow LeBron to New Orleans.
There is no telling what LeBron James’ decision will be as free agency begins next week. However, one thing is for sure: the ability to create a team with Anthony Davis as LeBron’s second option has to be appealing for him. Jrue Holiday has also proven to be a valuable third option, and would thrive in this scenario. Many NBA followers are hard-pressed as to where LeBron may decide to go because this time, there is no clear path for him to join a team ready to win a title. If LeBron joined the Pelicans, however, they would without a doubt be prepared to take down the Warriors, and add many more titles to LeBron’s arsenal.
— Jeff Nowak (@Jeff_Nowak) June 22, 2018
Edited by Peyten Maki.
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