One of the biggest themes throughout the 2017-18 NBA season has been where LeBron James will end up. And common guesses include the Houston Rockets, L.A. Lakers, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, or simply re-signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But one free agency destination that hasn’t really been discussed is the Portland Trail Blazers. And former teammate Richard Jefferson believes that this could ultimately be one of LeBron’s top picks. Let’s discuss why Jefferson believes this along with what the Trail Blazers have to offer James.
Nike could be the Answer to Luring LeBron
LeBron has a lifetime deal with Nike that’s believed to be worth over $1 billion. He also has a strong relationship with Nike co-founder Phil Knight. These are two factors that make Jefferson feel like Portland, Oregon would be the perfect fit for James.
Jefferson, who played with LeBron on Cleveland from 2015-17, discussed the matter on ESPN’s Jalen & Jacoby.
“Obviously LeBron has a connection to Oregon because of his relationship with Nike,” Jefferson said. “Phil Knight being a really big LeBron fan, I think wants to get him up there. I mean, they could build a whole new campus up there. Portland has now entered into the unfounded, irresponsible speculation of free agency around LeBron.”
While this sounds plausible, Jefferson admits that he doesn’t really have a lead on what James will ultimately do through free agency in the summer.
“I could see him doing anything, because no one knows,” said Jefferson. “Marc Stein [ESPN reporter] doesn’t know, I don’t know, you [Joe Jacoby] don’t know, no one knows. No one knew he was going to Miami, hence the television show ‘The Decision.’ No one knew he was going back to Cleveland.”
How would a LeBron-Portland Union Look?
The Nike aspect makes it possible that LeBron could consider Portland. It also helps matters that the Trail Blazers had a solid season, finishing 49-33 before being swept in the first round. The latter indicates that Portland has a ways to go before they’re an elite contender, despite earning the third seed in the West.
Landing LeBron would immediately make them a legitimate title contender. And Portland has excellent building blocks, with All-Star guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They also have good role players in center Jusuf Nurkic, forward Al-Farouq Aminu, and guard Shabazz Napier.
But as Jefferson and Jacoby alluded to, one of the biggest challenges will be clearing enough cap room for James. The team’s payroll is over $118 million, which is the 11th highest in the league. LeBron has already stated that he won’t take less than the max, meaning Portland would have to make significant roster moves to clear up enough to sign him.
Their worst contract is Evan Turner at $17.8 million for next season. While Turner is a nice role player off the bench, he’s being paid double what he’s worth. They’d likely have to package draft picks with Turner in order to trade him.
Center Meyers Leonard has another bad contract since he’s due $10.6 million in 2019. He only plays 8 minutes per game and is another situation where draft picks would be required for a trade.
Lillard and McCollum are due $26.1 million and $23.9 million, respectively, next season. McCollum has been mentioned in trade talks, simply because the two guards have similar strengths and weaknesses. But any trade would have to bring back smaller contracts if James is indeed interested in Portland.