Okay, I Give — Where’s He Going?

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I know it’s been written to death, these last couple of days especially, but I figured it’s time to get in on the action.  We debated where The King would be playing next year at the lunch table in my office the morning of Game 4 (and footnote here — yes, I did call the sweep, but somehow managed to temper even that small victory by hedging and telling my office crew that day that I thought LeBron would figure out a way to eke out Game 4 win — oh well), as I imagine was being debated at lunch tables all over the globe this week.

A colleague who’s opinion I respect on matters of hoop was of the strong opinion that LeBron stays put in Cleveland. I found that interesting, since that is really the one option that I believe is off the table already for him as he begins weighing his potential future destinations. My co-worker cited LBJ’s family, community and a “why go through the hassle” mentality for his convictions.

I listened sort of patiently, but ultimately I believe he was way off base and looking at it through the wrong lens. I thought I’d put a more scientific diagnostic to this one and see where it came out. Yeah, right.  Like most things SportsAttic, what follows is grounded in personal bias, rooting interests and conjecture substantiated only in my own head.

My solid belief is there are only two things that will ultimately influence LeBron’s decision on where he next takes his talents (and yes, I believe it is safe to assume that this time there won’t be a television show to announce his decision) — his family and his legacy.  Perhaps not in the traditional sense, though. This an incredibly smart and thoughtful guy (he talks regularly with Warren Buffet for gosh sakes), so this will be about way more than who has the most cap space.

For this discussion, I’ve limited the cities under consideration to Cleveland, Philly, Los Angeles, Golden State (I know that’s not a city), Houston and yes, you guessed it, New York. I know that fans in San Antonio have somehow convinced themselves they have a shot here, but sorry Spurs fans, that slide you saw accelerating this year will escalate dramatically over the next few years and even the revered Pop won’t be able to stop it. However, I must admit I am curious to see if the San Antonio faithful will support a string of 30-something win squads over the next few years.  That’s where it’s heading in south Texas. You heard it here first.

I also am not including Miami, despite the presence of Pat Riley, LBJ’s history down there and the lack of a state tax (I’m sure a data point on Lebron’s white board of pros and cons, but not a decision mover). So with that as background, here we go:

Cleveland: Sorry folks, but you got your league-assisted title two years ago, so The King’s work is done. There is literally nothing in Cleveland that improves his brand at this point beyond what he’s already done with his mostly triumphant return home.  Sure, he’s home,  but I don’t think that will be as big a motivator for him as many argue.  Do his kids think of Cleveland as home?  They grew up in Miami. They fly in private jets all over the country and world on weekends and live quite the different life from those “fabric of the community” types that purchase the upper bowl tickets at The King’s home games. As early-teens, think about what may feel exciting to his kids?  Continuing to live in Ohio or perhaps exploring some of the more exciting locales their Dad has taken them to in his travels?  Their bags are already packed.

Philadelphia: This is a trendy choice currently, but again, I just don’t see it.  Right, right, they’ve got tremendous young talent, and if he were to take his talents to the city of Geno’s and Pat’s it is quite likely he’ll add at least a ring or two to his collection.  Again, I think there’s more to this than him finding the “ready to win now” destination. Let’s start with his kids again.  They are looking at the same list we all are.  They’ve seen Dad win multiple titles and the trip to the finals is an annual rite of passage in their eyes. So doing it one more time, even if the likelihood of victory seems high, can’t be that exciting to them when they compare Philadelphia to the other destinations on their board.  And as for The King’s legacy?  As indestructible as he comes across, he also strikes me as a guy who’s becoming more and more aware of the wear and tear wreaking havoc on his body.  He’s got two, maybe three, more years of carrying a squad that’s truly his to glory. Sorry, but Philly simply doesn’t fit.  And as for positioning his kids for future glory and himself for exciting opportunities post-NBA career, it doesn’t check that box either.

Golden State: Please no. I’m less objective here, and I believe I can safely speak for every NBA fan (outside of Dubs Nation, that is) from Adam Silver all the way to my teenage daughters when I say that no one wants this. As far as legacy and family, this one does come super close.  Those investment opportunities hatched in Silicon Valley that only become available to the super rich will surely entice The King, as they most certainly did with KD two Julys ago. And it’s California, which will resonate in a cool way with his kids (who I’m also guessing secretly love the Warriors, despite/because of what they do to Dad every June). If Durant hadn’t shocked the world two years ago and already gone down this path this one might have some legs. Fortunately for all of us, Durant formed the Super Team with expected championship results delivered. I can’t see LBJ following a path already blazed by arguably his closest competitor for “Best Player in the NBA” status today.  I’m calling this a thought that has to be considered (along the lines of a second dessert), but ultimately he’ll find better fits in other places.

Houston: Sorry Houston folk, but he’s only going to an A-list city. And no matter how hard and loud you argue that Houston is, in fact, on that list, I’m telling you that those of us outside Houston (especially your neighbors in Dallas) laugh at that contention. I know, there’s the Chris Paul friendship, but I sense that LeBron may be one of those guys who has lots of friends but no friends (don’t we all know one guy like that?). At least not in the league.  I also have to wonder how LeBron felt about CP3 sitting out Game 6 and Game 7 when that title he supposedly so desperately desires was within reach. Somebody needs to show Mr. Paul a tape of Willis Reed limping onto the Garden floor back in 1970 (with Wilt Chamberlain waiting for him no less!) and how that inspired his teammates to win a Game 7 nobody gave them a shot at.  Paul’s leg hurt? Okayyyyy… And yes, we have that “no state tax” dynamic here, but as previously stated, that could be a tie breaker, but this one isn’t close to a tie.  Legacy and family?  I’m sure it’s a nice place to live, but I also doubt the kids are clamoring to fire up the jet for a weekend trip to Houston, right?  Legacy opportunities?  Oil and gas I suppose?  Yeah, this one’s not happening.

New York: There’s so much I could futilely attempt to build a case around here, which is what makes it so damn sad to have to admit this is nothing more than a pipe dream. I mean, c’mon, coming to New York and reviving this franchise and perhaps deliver them it’s first title since 1973?  Even the league would whole heartedly endorse that storyline.  Family?  Yes, it’s not sunny 365 a year, but it is New York and hard to imagine that his kids couldn’t get behind this one enthusiastically in a matter of minutes.  Legacy?  Beyond the chance to bring a title back to the best basketball city in the world, the business opportunities would be abundant.  This is the best legacy story going.  But there’s a problem.  He Who Will Not Be Named still owns the Knicks.  The NBA is a small world, almost like an exclusive club. Close relationships, no secrets as to the good and bad of cities and franchises.  No one of relevance goes to the Knicks under this ownership.  Carmelo certainly wasn’t the guy to try and overcome these impossible odds, and look at how he left town, broken and ridiculed by many in the know.  I wish, I wish, as I’d find a way to put aside my personal distaste for The King to wave a blue and orange towel all the way to the finals (with a seven-game conference finals victory over the Celtics along the way? Hell yeah!). Not happening though — make him sell, Adam Silver.  Isn’t there some “good of the game” clause that can be invoked? Pretty please? Next…

Los Angeles: Ding, ding. This one seems pre-ordained to me, especially when you consider the points above. He’s already got a home out there.  I’m guessing the kids like SoCal just a little bit?  Entertainment center, beaches, beautiful people, music.  Legacy anyone?  Another proud franchise fallen on hard times recently, but with a core that shows signs of life.  And a good draft pick on the way. Add LBJ to the mix and they contend with one more quality player added between now and training camp (Paul George anyone?).  And post-career opportunities?  Hollywood beckons, LeBron. He’s actually not bad on screen, and his brand could expand broadly into film and fashion.  Think that’s not appealing to him? Yes, I’m only really talking about the Lakers here.  The Clips have an owner that could probably make a compelling case to him and would be a conduit into the world of the elite wealthy, but there’s no history with the Clippers.  And arguably a worse roster.  Nope, it’s the Lakers.  Plain and simple.  His kids will cheer and start packing tomorrow.  The ego lift of thinking about the opportunities that the L.A. platform will deliver to him along with the lifelong legacy of being the latest connecting dot in the Lakers championship history will be incredibly compelling.  And the team would surely be his. They aren’t a “just add water” contender, but will be with his iron will and relentless drive leading the way, taking the talented youngsters around him to new levels.

Put it in the books.  LeBron the Laker.  Coming soon.  I’m already thinking about who I root for when they take on the Dubs in next year’s Western Conference Finals.

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