Would the best player in the world really join forces with the best team?
Et tu, LeBron?
But the notion that LeBron would leave in free agency and go to the team best situated to win titles for the foreseeable future was, until today, pure fantasy.
Well, the chances of that dream – or nightmare, depending on your perspective – appear slightly better after a bombshell report by ESPN’s Chris Haynes that James could meet with the Golden State Warriors and listen to their pitch on getting him to join.
The report isn’t saying James will join the Warriors, or even that he wants to. It’s just revealing that James would consider it.
Let’s break down why such a colossus move won’t become a reality, but also explore why it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility.
Why it wouldn’t happen
Before jumping into LeBron’s massive shoes and sifting through his motivations, let’s first look at the cold, hard facts – or in this case, the cold, hard salary cap.
The very first words of ESPN’s report make it clear that any meeting between James and the defending champions would be dependent on “if the Golden State Warriors can create a max salary slot this offseason”. So you can throw any thought of LeBron taking a pay cut out the window.
Golden State would need to create cap space to slot in LeBron’s max contract, which will be no easy feat considering their payroll is expected to once again be north of $128 million next season. Unless Kevin Durant declines his player option for 2018-19 and is generous enough to literally take next to nothing on his next contract, there’s really no way LeBron’s salary could fit without a trade going down.
LeBron is the best player in the world, even at the 33, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. In the short term, he’s an upgrade over every player in the league. So it’s not so much a question of whether the Warriors would be better right now in that scenario.
But it could come at the cost of what they’ve already built – a sustainable, egalitarian ecosystem that’s already set up to be a dynasty. Adding LeBron may remove all doubt, but Golden State don’t need him to keep winning titles.
And for LeBron, there’s more to consider than just basketball and titles.
If you thought James was killed for leaving Cleveland the first time and joining Miami, and Kevin Durant was dragged over the coals for bailing on Oklahoma City for the Bay Area, a LeBron-to-Warriors move would inspire fury never seen before from casual NBA fans.
“He’s done something similar before”, you say. Well, the decision to team-up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach was different. That was a case of three friends coming together and building their own ‘superteam’. James joining these Warriors, an already-constructed Voltron, would just be a more exaggerated version of Durant’s decision to take the path of least resistance.
Even if he won several titles with Golden State, his image, legacy and brand may not be better for it. LeBron should already be considered alongside Michael Jordan as the greatest ever and no matter what he does going forward, that should never be taken away from him. But what should happen and what will happen are two different things because the overwhelming narrative isn’t always right.
What if LeBron doesn’t care though?
Why it could happen
Maybe James is just sick of it all. Sick of spending every season dealing with wild inconsistencies before righting the ship and making a run to the Finals, only to get bounced without so much as putting a scratch on the Warriors.
Maybe he’s sick of playing with aging veterans who are past their prime. Maybe he’s sick of Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert messing everything up. Maybe he’s sick of having all the burden and expectations placed on his broad shoulders.
Durant got characterised as someone who wanted to take the easy way out when he joined Golden State, but it felt like playing a fun, cohesive style of basketball was just as important to his decision as winning was. It wouldn’t be ridiculous if LeBron had that same yearning.
And yes, the chance to gobble up titles and close the gap, if not even the score, with Jordan remains a massive selling point.
While people who follow the league might put a mental asterisk on any titles LeBron wins with the Warriors, it’s entirely possible James is chasing the ghost of Jordan for his own personal challenge and not for anyone else’s judgement.
If it sounds like you’re being talked into the idea like a potential customer being talked into buying a car, you’re exactly right. Because at the end of the day, LeBron isn’t joining the Warriors.