The biggest saga surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers all season has been where Lebron James will sign in free agency. James has an option in his deal, leaving him free to sign anywhere if he opts out this summer.
The King has been linked to the Los Angeles Lakers multiple times throughout the year. But the prevailing wisdom is that L.A. is too young and too far away from being a serious contender. Combine this with how LeBron only wants to go somewhere where he can win a championship, and these are major downsides.
But as the Lakers’ recent win over the Cavaliers shows, LA may not be so far off as everybody thinks. They have several young pieces in Lonzo Ball, Brandom Ingram, Julius Randle, and Kyle Kuzma who could make them competitive for years to come. And they also have the cap space to sign one or two max free agents.
Whether this is ultimately enough to lure LeBron remains to be seen. But I strongly believe that this makes L.A. a more-likely landing spot than James’ current team.
Cleveland is Struggling
For starters, they’re currently in fourth place in the East, behind Indiana, Boston, and first-place Toronto. Cleveland is at least within striking distance of the Pacers. But even if they move ahead of them, it only gives the Cavs’ home court for the first-round. And don’t count out the thought that they could fall even further in the standings with 15 games to go.
We also can’t rule out the idea that Cleveland is still the favorite in the East. This is especially the case when considering that the Celtics have suffered multiple injuries. And LeBron has yet to be seriously challenged by the Raptors in the playoffs.
But even if the Cavs surprise everybody by making a trip to the Finals, they stand little chance of beating of the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors in a 7-game series.
Cavs Still Have Roster Problems
It was obvious to GM Koby Altman and everybody else that Cleveland’s aging roster wasn’t going to get the job done. This is why Altman made multiple trades before the deadline to bring in fresh faces like Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr.
The team initially experienced a resurgence with these new players in town. But they’ve come back down to earth as everybody is still trying to mesh together.
The fact that Cleveland still doesn’t have great chemistry one month before the playoffs isn’t a good sign. They also have questions to deal with in the offseason about whom they can re-sign. And this is without considering the possibility that LeBron does opt back into his $30+ million-dollar deal.
LA Quieted the Drama and Became an Attractive Spot
Just a few weeks ago, the Lakers didn’t look like a great spot for veterans who want to win now. Ball’s dad, LaVar Ball, stirred up controversy when he said that head coach Luke Walton had lost the locker room.
But the team has all of the drama under control now. They’ve also played really well since early January. LA boasts a 19-9 record since January 7, which is good for seventh in the league.
This young squad is also outscoring opponents by 3.6 points per possession. In this same span, the Cavs’ have gone 12-15 and been outscored by 3.3 per 100. Obviously LeBron isn’t going to make his entire decision just based on stats over a two-month sample size. But this does show that the Lakers are moving in the right direction.
Young LA Players are Showcasing Talents
Ball headlines a crop of young players who should make this franchise very successful in the future. Ball is averaging 11.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 2.5 steals since the beginning of January. He’s also hitting 37.2% of his three-pointers in the same span, which is impressive for somebody who was ripped for his shooting earlier in the year.
Ingram is also playing well in his sophomore season. The former No. 2 pick is averaging 16.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.9 assists since the turn of 2018.
Late first-rounder Kyle Kuzma isn’t on fire any longer like he was to start the season. But he’s still shown enough to prove that he’s a steal who could be good for years to come. Forward Julius Randle is yet one more key young player on this squad. And he proved his worth by dropping 36 points and grabbing 14 rebounds against the Cavs.
Can the Lakers Sign 2 Max Free Agents?
Los Angeles will be perfectly happy if they can sign James. But they could create an immediate championship contender by getting two max free agents.
This would likely mean getting rid of Randle in a sign-and-trade. But team president Magic Johnson may have to consider this move if it means bringing in somebody like Paul George. James, George[?], Ball, Kuzman, and Ingram would create an impressive lineup.
Of course, LA could make an even more-aggressive move by trading one or more of their first-round picks and either Ball or Ingram to get a third star.
This is a highly speculative move that might never come to fruition. But the point is that the Lakers have far more options than the Cavs do. And this could ultimately influence LeBron’s decision.
But we also have to consider the fact that the Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers can make strong plays for James’ services too. Houston is already a title contender and has one of LeBron’s best friends in Chris Paul on the team. Philadelphia is a rising young team that could compete for championships sooner than later with LeBron.
However, LA also has another advantage over these squads. LeBron owns multiple homes in the city and has business interests in LA.
Of course, nobody knows what’s truly going to happen. But one thing is for sure: the 2018 free agency period is going to be an interesting one.