Storyline: LeBron James Free Agency

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Even if the Lakers bring in Paul George along with James, can a group of players barely old enough to legally order alcohol, without one game of NBA postseason experience, give enough support to win 16 contests through June? None of the answers is easy, and while the obvious play would be to try for James, the Lakers need to seriously consider how long LeBron James will be LeBron James. “He has two or three years left at an elite level,” an NBA agent said, a sentiment echoed by the Western Conference executive. The executive from the East, however, didn’t agree: “He’ll be LBJ for however long he wants. He’s a freak. I’m confident he can dominate for another five to six years.”
1 week ago via ESPN

“I’ve still got too much work to do here,” James said, speaking about the Cavaliers’ season, which has 18 games remaining before the playoffs. “One thing about me and my career, you probably don’t know, you haven’t been around me, that I handle my business accordingly, and when that time comes, I’ll take care of that. But right now, my job right now is to get these guys prepared for the Clippers tonight and then how we can continue to get better going down the stretch.”

But it goes beyond that. Clarkson said when he was a player for the Lakers, his teammates used to talk about James coming there as a free agent, which he could be free to do this summer if he opts out of his contract with the Cavs. “I wouldn’t say like management and the coaches or nobody, but in the locker room people talk when they see what’s going on,” Clarkson said, after the Cavs beat the Denver Nuggets 113-108. “That’s probably the only thing, people talk in the locker room.”
2 weeks ago via ESPN

Emrani says he has paid to put up four billboards around Los Angeles trying to recruit James to join the Lakers in free agency in response to previous billboards erected in Cleveland and Pennsylvania trying to convince James to join the Sixers and remain with the Cavaliers, respectively. As the Cavaliers make their only trip of the regular season to Los Angeles to face the Clippers on Friday and the Lakers on Sunday, Emrani wants James to know he’s wanted in purple and gold. The Lakers have the ability to create as much as $70 million in cap space to pursue two max free agent stars like James and Oklahoma City’s Paul George this summer.
2 weeks ago via ESPN

Richard Jefferson: “He’s a Cav and everyone here knows 1,000 percent that he’s 100 percent committed to whatever game or team he’s on. He’ll address it with his family when the season is over. I don’t know, no one knows, people can guess, everyone wants to now throw these shots in the dark. ‘Oh he’s going to go here, he’s going to do this. He played junior high hockey with this person so maybe he’ll go play in Minnesota.’ Shut up. No one knows. No one knows.”

There’s been some growing “LeBron to Philly” buzz for four reasons: the Sixers have enough cap space and trade assets to accommodate LeBron and the likes of, say, PAUL GEORGE; Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are two of the league’s best under-25 blue-chippers (young legs!); Klutch represents Simmons (hmmmmm); and NBA insiders have been gossiping about an increasingly cozy Philly–LeBron’s circle connection since November. You want a quality narrative? What about this one:

“He’s not [coming back to Miami]. But the fact when ESPN polled 48 players about what they thought might happen with LeBron that they even mentioned the Heat shows that, at worst, the Heat remain relevant in players’ consciousness,” Winderman wrote. “Basically, the NBA players polled still consider the Heat a desirable landing spot. And that is a good thing. But I cannot fathom, as you pointed out, the Heat having enough on their roster to attract such a level of free agent. There was a time when I thought Hassan Whiteside could have been such a lure, but with his role minimized, I don’t see that as the case anymore.”

Possibly damaging the Lakers’ “King James” dreams is the franchise playing its own role in making the Cavaliers’ roster more attractive. The Lakers recently traded two of their young talents to Cleveland – easy-scoring guard Jordan Clarkson and high-flying forward Larry Nance Jr. Cleveland acquired a veteran point guard in George Hill who complements James well with his 3-point shooting, ability to be effective without the ball and defense, and also added a talented, athletic and young scorer in Rodney Hood, who could start for a lot of teams.

The new-look Cavaliers sans an injured Kevin Love are 2-0 since the moves and fun to watch again. The Lakers have the ability to sign two major free agents this summer, but the Clippers don’t have that ability until 2019. Trading ex-Clippers star Blake Griffin just months after he signed a five-year contract has to be curious to a prospective free agent as well.“I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays in Cleveland now,” one high-ranking Eastern Conference team executive said. “The Cavaliers put a really good team around him. The Cavaliers have made it really tough for him to decide to leave Cleveland again. The Lakers might have helped them keep LeBron.”

“It’s built for stars. It’s built for entertainment. It’s built for cameras and bright lights, and it’s a great place for it. I hope everybody had a great weekend. I know I did. I know my family did. So it was a great weekend.” A necessary disclosure for all those Lakers fans who want so badly for James to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to come their way in free agency: This, much like the many alleged James-to-LA bread crumbs that have come before, means nothing. Yet with the Lakers fans’ dreams so tantalizingly close this weekend – James and fellow free-agent-to-be Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder in their city and their building and playing on the same team – it’s more than enough to help them hold onto that hope for the next few months.

The house-cleaning in Cleveland was all for nothing — because LeBron James is leaving the Cavs to sign with the Lakers in the off-season … at least, that’s what LaVar Ball believes. The Big Baller was at his pop-up shop in L.A. when we asked about the possibility of Bron coming out West to play with Lonzo when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. LaVar is not only convinced it’s going to happen — he tells TMZ Sports, “Lonzo is gonna make HIM a better player!”
1 month ago via ESPN

If the Cavs were hedging before, this was seen by some as a more elaborate hedge, where they can improve this year and send the message to James that they’re supporting him but still lay the foundation for change. Otherwise, executives said, it’s hard to fathom the team spending this much money. But multiple Cavs executives reinforced that is not the plan, that Gilbert continues to offer unwavering support and is focused on winning more than on the team’s bottom line. The Cavs have added salary with midseason moves in each of the past four seasons. The past three seasons, the Cavs reached the Finals. The actions speak quite loudly.

While there have been some reports that ran counter to the idea, LeBron James potentially signing with the Golden State Warriors this offseason remains a legitimate possibility. If LeBron wants it and the Warriors want it, who exactly is going to stop it? And during an appearance on First Take, TNT analyst and NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal said that if he were LeBron, joining the defending champs is exactly what he would do.

Dwyane Wade Wade says unlike in 2010, LeBron James is on his own this time. Having recruited James and Chris Bosh to join the Miami Heat that offseason, Wade told ESPN he has no similar intentions this summer when James again will be a free agent. Having told NBA TV that South Florida will be his last NBA stop, Wade, 36, told former South Florida radio host Jorge Sedano during an interview at AmericanAirlines Arena that he is steering clear of James’ decision process.

“No. No, I don’t have anything to do with it, none of that,” Wade said of his partner during Heat runs to the NBA Finals from 2011-14, a stretch that produced championships in 2012 and ’13. “One thing I know is he makes his own decisions. So when we get to that point, hopefully he takes a good look at the place he’s at and gives that real consideration, and then goes from there. “It’s his decision and I don’t want nothing to do with it at all.”

The feeling among executives around the league is that James will choose between bolting for the Lakers and sticking with the Cavaliers next summer. The Lakers would offer him what he is looking for down the stretch of his career — a good place to move his family, a ready-made winning situation (if he could bring another top-tier star with him) and an opportunity to be connected with the entertainment industry. From a lifestyle standpoint, LA would be hard to beat.

Before the deadline, the entire future of the Cavs was latched to LeBron James’ 2018 free-agency decision. The moves they made, though, allow them to stay afloat as a franchise no matter what James does — and that could make James more likely to stay. “I would have said it was a 50-50 proposition that he would go back to Cleveland this summer before all of this, even a week ago,” one league executive told Sporting News. “I think this moves it more in the Cavs’ favor. They’re younger and deeper. If the lifestyle is all the same to him, and I don’t know that it is, I’d think he would stay in Cleveland.

LeBron James would reportedly meet with the Warriors if they clear max space next summer. But LeBron also called that rumor “nonsense.” Hawks general manager and former Golden State assistant general manager Travis Schlenk, via CBS Atlanta: “I would be really, really surprised if LeBron went to Golden State. The one thing I will say about Mr. James: He is the master at using the media to get whatever story he wants out there. He’s perfected the art of the social-media game. I think that those things were probably leaked by them, by Mr. James and his camp. I don’t see a universe where that happens. It would be interesting to see. It would be interesting to see what he’d be like with the rest of those guys, with his playmaking ability and obviously with the shooting that Golden State has.”
1 month ago via ESPN

Before getting out of the arena and safely onto a plane away from Saturday night’s mess, Paul offered a warning. He’s one of James’ closest friends and he admits he’s biased. But he’s also one of the smartest men in the NBA and someone who has tried to chase a championship for years and failed. “You’ve got LeBron James over there in that locker room. You know what I mean? What else the man need to do?” Paul said. “Don’t take it for granted, man, don’t take it for granted.”
1 month ago via ESPN

It’s dangerous in the NBA to overreact; it gets people fired and it costs people wins, respect and money. The season is long, and that makes it forgiving, which is why anyone who has much experience preaches patience. But the Cleveland Cavaliers are out of time. It’s preposterous to say that in February for a team with a history of turning things around and doing it when they have to. However, they are in a preposterous situation. They aren’t just looking at losing this season, but they are looking at losing LeBron James. If tomorrow were the beginning of free agency, there’s a good chance that would be the case.
1 month ago via ESPN

The Cavs’ players do not trust each other. It appears as if some of them don’t like each other. Two of them — Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye — were told they’d probably get traded two weeks ago but then weren’t. Their coach has been hesitant to shake up the lineup as he has failed to motivate his veteran team. Tyronn Lue’s performance has been questioned in recent weeks. His fidelity to playing certain lineups while abandoning others that previously were highly successful is so mystifying that it has launched conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, he is not at the center of the storm. This is all a whirlwind around LeBron James vs. the Cavs’ front office, which is to say it’s about James vs. owner Dan Gilbert.

“Before we start, I know you guys have to ask, but I can’t talk about other players on other teams,” Myers opened. “I’m not allowed to, I wouldn’t do it anyway. Ask your questions, I understand you have to do your job, too. But just to lay that out there.” “How about a hypothetical 6-foot-8 power forward?” said a voice from the back, coming from the same news anchor who had broken up the media fight minutes earlier. “Hypotheticals should be disallowed, too,” Myers said.
2 months ago via ESPN

A sign-and-trade scenario would be the most realistic way for Golden State to acquire James. The Warriors could build an offer around Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala to match salary and tempt the Cavaliers into making a deal, according to ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. To make a sign-and-trade possible, Golden State also would need Kevin Durant to decline his player option and take even less than his current annual salary of $25 million, in addition to moving Shaun Livingston’s salary to a team with cap space. Golden State probably would have to fill out its bench with players making the league minimum.

But things fell through, and for one pretty big reason. The Cavs reportedly wanted Hill to be willing to take a buyout after this season in the event that Cavs star LeBron James bolted via free agency. Cavs Insider Brian Windhorst addressed the busted deal Tuesday. “So (the Cavs) didn’t want to buy him out this year,” Windhorst said on ESPN Radio. “What they wanted to do was protect themselves in the event that LeBron James left, whether George Hill would be willing to take a buyout on the 20 million he’s owed on his contract after the season.”

Happily, at long last for the Lakers, they’re warming up, if not red hot. It may be because Magic, still a charismatic figure, is in charge, or that Kupchak did a good job before being fired so that they finally have the right young players, even if none of them is Joel Embiid or Karl-Anthony Towns. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are showing signs of being special, as has Lonzo Ball in an earlier stage of development. Julius Randle, thought to be outward bound for cap room, has clawed his way up the pecking order. A year ago if you asked how many of their players had shown they were special as opposed to merely promising, the answer would have been none. Magic still dreams like a Laker, targeting the top free agents: Bron, Paul George and, at least until last week’s injury, DeMarcus Cousins.

When Larry Nance Jr. hears rumors about LeBron James, Paul George and/or DeMarcus Cousins potentially joining the Lakers, does he get excited? “Um, hmm. So-so. I mean, like I said, there are rumors that LeBron is going to go [everywhere]. There are rumors about everything. Obviously, everybody knows about the Paul George stuff and that whole saga. Now there’s [talk like], ‘LeBron may come to L.A. and he just bought a house there]!’ And yeah, we read all of that. We read all of the clickbait stuff. But in reality, we’re just focused on what’s in front of us. We’re just trying to be the best team we can be and if someone like LeBron James or Paul George or one of those stars does come here in the summer, then it’s like, ‘Whew! That would increase our win total by, like, 20!’ You read it. You look at it. But in terms of paying attention to it? Not too much.”

Sam Amick on LeBron James’ future: “I don’t know where he goes, but with the mood of the moment – for a lot of obvious reasons – I’m leaning toward him leaving. I understand people who say that the [best way] to stay in the Finals every year is staying in Cleveland because of the East, but Boston and Toronto are legit so I think that narrative is a little outdated at this point. If he stays in Cleveland, I don’t think there’s any guarantee whatsoever that he’s getting back to the Finals. The days of surrounding LeBron with some halfway-capable players and he’ll take them to the Finals are gone. I think the relationship stuff is also a major factor. I talked about Dan Gilbert a bit earlier and the reality that doesn’t get talked about enough is that, from my understanding, LeBron and Dan mended fences enough to get to this point where they won a title and have been to the Finals multiple years in a row. But it’s not like they had a Kumbaya moment and became best friends

Sam Amick on LeBron to Houston: “I wrote about [LeBron going to] Houston earlier this year and heard some really, really interesting stuff on that front, so I’m a little bit of a sucker for that idea. I know people say, ‘Don’t go West! Why would you get into the ring with the Warriors and the Spurs and this new-look Thunder team if they can figure it out?’ But, for one, the Rockets showed us just a few nights ago that they can beat the Warriors. They have his best friend Chris Paul. And I’m not trying to make too much of a friendship, but those guys would play wonderfully together along with James Harden, who I think is the MVP right now.

On Sam hearing that LeBron looking at a school in LA was a huge misunderstanding. Sam Amick: “Someone I really trust told me that the school subplot – that LeBron and his wife were already looking for a school in Los Angeles for their kids – was a complete misunderstanding. Maybe it’s not the case. But they said that he was shooting a commercial near that school and said, ‘I want to take a breather and get some shots in. Where is there a court near here?’ And he wound up shooting hoops at the school and then afterward, they were just poking around before going back to the commercial shoot. But they said he was shooting a commercial right nearby and that’s the only reason he was in the neighborhood. But who knows?”

2 months ago via ESPN

Magic Johnson’s biggest task will be to give Lonzo Ball — who is averaging 12 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 3.3 steals in his past three games — superstars to pass to. The Lakers will try to add two stars this summer when LeBron James is expected to headline the free agency class, and Worthy thinks his old point guard will not come up empty-handed. “You look at what Magic Johnson has been able to do throughout his basketball career, [and] in his post-basketball career, he’s been able to manifest pretty good deals,” the former Lakers great said. “When Magic is in the room, that is a major asset trying to recruit. “With Kobe [Bryant] gone and the young core players that we have, and I think players understand and see what Lonzo Ball brings to the table as a point guard, I really think we are in a good place and I think [Johnson] will be able to deliver next year.”
2 months ago via ESPN

Ahead of his team’s 129-110 home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo — who currently tops all All-Star Game fan voting, including a roughly 7,500-vote lead over LeBron James — said he’d pick the Cleveland Cavaliers star first if he maintains his advantage and is designated a team captain. “So, first of all, if my teammates aren’t available — I’m going with my teammates — I’d gotta go with LeBron James,” Antetokounmpo said with a laugh. “The best player in the world. We can have a good relationship in free agency — you never know, he might come play here.”

According to NBA insider Eric Pincus, the Lakers will target both DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George closer to the NBA Trade Deadline. “Plan A for the Lakers is still LeBron James. Having said that, at the deadline, the Lakers have two targets: Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins. I think George is more of a long shot since the Thunder seem to have figured things out over the last 10 games. However, the Pelicans are a different story because they’re just above .500. If they don’t climb the standings, they will be open to move Cousins,” Pincus said during the LakersNation Podcast.

Alex: What do you think LeBron will do? If you had to make a prediction: Do you think he re-signs in Cleveland? Or does he go to Los Angeles, Houston? What do you think he does? Marc Spears: I think it depends on how he finishes. I believe the way they lost at the end last time—or perhaps he decided earlier—but it seems like both his departures came after hard season endings, although his mind may have been made up before. Like, for example, no one probably would have mentioned [Philadelphia] beforehand, but now Philly is interesting, right? People would have assumed Lakers before, but now ‘oh, no, he wouldn’t consider the Lakers.’ With him, I think it’s fluid. And I also think that if the Cavs were to get the No. 1 pick, you know, get a top top pick with that pick, that potentially he could get a young guy—like, what if he was able to get a top-three pick there? It might be more attractive to stay. With him, to be honest, I don’t know that there’s a good prediction to make because there’s too many different scenarios going on that could affect what he decides.
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On Monday, Lue said he was stepping away from the Cavaliers for some time to focus on his health. “It’s a stressful job,” Walton said. “… You don’t get a lot of sleep, you travel a lot and you’re stressed all day long. It’s important that coaches take time to also take care of themselves as far as health … whether that’s workouts, meditate, whatever it is. It’s important that we eat right, exercise, all those things, because the life of travel and everything else that goes into coaching is probably not ideal for staying healthy. I’m not sure what it is with Ty, but my thoughts and prayers are with him that he gets better and gets back to coaching because I know he loves coaching.”
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