For LeBron James, perhaps the pull of Los Angeles is strong.
Perhaps the attraction of home has been weakened by the Cavaliers’ roster inflexibility or damaged by owner Dan Gilbert’s decisions to part ways with General Manager David Griffin and succumb to Kyrie Irving’s trade demand.
Perhaps James is tired of the easy 22-minute commute up Interstate 77 from his home in Bath Township to Cleveland Clinic Courts, working alongside close friends and Cavs staffers Randy Mims and Brandon Weems, the four-minute drive across Route 18 to Cracker Barrel. Maybe he’s ready to give all that up for the luxury of a mansion in Brentwood, Calif., which also comes with smog and gridlock on the 405.
But considering all that needs to happen in the next week for the four-time league Most Valuable Player to find another place to take his talents, the best option for James is to wait until next year.
Opt out of his contract on Friday, sign a one-and-one (one year with an option) shortly after free agency opens on Sunday and try to lead the Cavs back to the NBA Finals. Then make the final major decision of his career in 2019 when the free-agent class could include Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Irving, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Devin Booker, Al Horford and Jonas Valanciunas. Kevin Love might also be on that list if he declines his player option for 2019-20.
A year from now, the Super Team possibilities seem endless. James, George and Leonard together in La La Land? James surrounded by shooters like Thompson and Irving, if James and Irving could patch up their differences? James and a reunion of former Kentucky stars Towns and Booker? (That might prompt Louisville fans disgusted by its scandals to don Big Blue on occasion.)
Los Angeles Lakers president Magic Johnson said Tuesday that his plan to return his old team to glory spans two summers and vowed to resign if he can’t lure free agents by July, 2019.
Johnson is trying to fast-track that now, scrambling to try to complete a trade for Leonard, a southern California native who would like to play in L.A. But Leonard has a year left on his contract and the Spurs don’t want to send the two-time defensive player of the year to a Western Conference rival. They might be content to keep the disgruntled star until February’s trade deadline.
George is also from SoCal, but seems to be softening his stance since forcing his way out of Indiana via trade last July. He could remain with the Oklahoma City Thunder after repeatedly praising the organization and enjoying having 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook as his running mate.
It’s possible James is willing to go to the Lakers, play with Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and draftee Mo Wagner and wait a year for other stars to follow.
Perhaps James will decide that the Philadelphia 76ers or Houston Rockets offer the best path to more championships.
In Philadelphia, he could help mold Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, also represented by James’ agent Rich Paul, but they might not be ready for the pressure of a championship chase. The Rockets were a Chris Paul hamstring injury away from beating the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals, but major salary cap manipulation is needed to sign James.
Perhaps a surprise contender will swoop in at the 11th hour. James reportedly wants to make his decision more quickly than in past years, even as soon as the Fourth of July.
It’s possible James could be drawn to the Lakers because reviving the franchise would add to his legacy. As he said on March 9, "This league is much better when the Lakers, the Knicks, and the Celtics are all good at the same time." He’s made that comment on multiple occasions.
The Celtics seem on their way, which presumably torches the notion that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge would trade away young players to add James, especially with Irving still on the roster.
The lure of Johnson could be just as strong as that of L.A.’s beaches and palm trees, of its restaurants and boutiques. When he entered the NBA in 2003, James already had the passing skills that drew comparisons to Johnson. Johnson, 58, grew up in Lansing, Mich., where his father worked in a General Motors plant and his mother toiled as school custodian as they raised 10 children. Johnson might look at James, 33, brought up by a struggling single mother in Akron, as the perfect partner in the Lakers’ rebirth.
But Johnson isn’t quitting if free agency 2018 fails to live up to expectations.
For James, signing a one-and-one contract with the Cavs would allow his son LeBron Jr. to finish the eighth grade with his friends. It would give the Cavs time to see if the players acquired at the trade deadline, most notably Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, can grow and become integral pieces in the team’s future, along with draftee Collin Sexton and rookies Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic. It would keep James home to oversee this fall’s launch of the I Promise School.
Why rush to L.A. if Leonard and/or George won’t be following? Why put up with Ball’s father LaVar before it’s absolutely necessary?
Johnson — and Rodeo Drive — can wait.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.