LeBron James has been bigger than the game, a cultural artifact for discussion, dissection and discernment for six years through triumph, misery, and wait, did he have a cartoon show? In advance of LeBron’s second big decision, we wanted to weigh in with our writers’ thoughts on the different worlds this moment in time touches and how honestly weird this entire process is — because the four most powerful words in the NBA are “LeBron James free agency.” Enjoy. – Ed.
We don’t yet know much about what LeBron James will do this summer. He might stay with the Miami Heat. He might jump ship to the Chicago Bulls or the Houston Rockets. He might return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Or he might do something else entirely. But the only thing we know for sure is that whoever he does sign with will immediately take their place as a title contender, no matter which conference they’re in.
LeBron is the only player who turns a team of questionable merit into a title contender. Think about the work he did in Cleveland, when he dragged a team that started Eric Snow and Drew Gooden kicking and screaming into the Finals in 2007. Or when he and a nearly identical team in 2008 pushed the first super team, the Pierce/Allen/Garnett Boston Celtics, to 7 games and put up 45 points in game seven. Or even in Miami, when he dragged a Heat team that hadn’t really figured out what it was to the Finals in 2011, or when he got this year’s team, short on depth and long in the tooth, to the Finals.
Put LeBron on a good team, and he’ll make it great. Put him on an OK team, and he’ll make it very good. Put him on a bad team, and he’ll make it solid to above-average.
“But Caleb,” you say, because you’re a rhetorical device and not a real person. “Surely you don’t mean to say that LeBron could turn any team into a contender. I mean, the Philadelphia 76ers would be terrible with or without LeBron!”
OK, Mr. Rhetorical Device. First, don’t call me Shirley. Second, I think LeBron would turn even the Sixers into a contender. Michael Carter-Williams, LeBron, Thaddeus Young and Nerlens Noel strikes me as a pretty solid core, though admittedly we haven’t actually seen Nerlens play. And given that it’s the East, and the Heat would be a fringe contender at best in this brave new world, I don’t think you can rule it out entirely.
People who aren’t obsessive NBA fans — and probably Cleveland fans, obsessive or not — may deride how much coverage on SportsCenter LeBron’s free agency has already gotten, is getting, and will continue to get. But this Decision will permanently alter the NBA landscape. If LeBron goes West, say to the Rockets or Phoenix Suns, the East will be left with the Indiana Pacers, a Bulls team in flux and … I don’t know, the Brooklyn Nets? The Toronto Raptors? The Washington Wizards?
No matter what happens, King James will continue to rule the NBA. Now we just have to wait to see where he builds his palace.