Why LeBron Could Be Headed to L.A., But Not Until 2019

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All this talk about LeBron James and his impeding free agency decision has been at the top of most news cycles since last October, so why stop now? Except this time, it will be a little different. Instead of this summer being the focal point of the NBA, what about next year?

Everyone knows that James will decline to opt-in to his $35.6 million player option for the 2018-19 season and most people outside of the boundaries of Northeast Ohio have pegged James to leave the Cavaliers once again for the Los Angeles Lakers in sunny Southern California.

Everyone also knows that the Lakers current roster is not exactly the most enticing for James to join to become an instant title contender. This means James will look to add another superstar level player to join him and push open that closing championship window and most reports reflect this notion as the Lakers have not one, but two max contracts available to offer.

Free agent Paul George and San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard are now both strongly linked to Los Angeles after the latter made his desire to leave the Spurs public last week. Should the Lakers land either George or Leonard, that would pave a smooth road for James to jump ship to the west coast and don the purple and gold as well.

But here’s where things can get tricky. Although George has also made his intentions to join the Lakers public as well, after a productive season with a bitter finish, it is not a certainty that George will still choose to go to L.A. as his relationship with Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook is reportedly a great one and George may feel he has some unfinished business in OKC after a lackluster performance in the playoffs.

As with Leonard, he still has one year left on his current contract and the Spurs have let it be known that they prefer to not trade Leonard to a Western Conference team. The only team with assets good enough to make a trade would be the Boston Celtics and after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals; the Celtics don’t necessarily have a need for him. This means the Spurs could instead choose to have Leonard play out (or sit out) the last year of his contract and let him walk next season.

Should these two scenarios prove to be true, now the Lakers have gone 0/2 on top-level free agents, meaning James would still be in L.A. by himself with a less-than-worthy roster.

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So what should he do? It’s quite simple actually, if James is smart, which we all know he is.

James would then return to the Cavs, by default, but could look to sign another one plus one deal (two year contract with the second year being a player option). James would still get the max amount for such a deal and would still have the flexibility to move again next season. This would put him in line to be a free agent at the same time as Leonard and both players could make the move to L.A. for the 2019-20 season.

Even George could ask for such a deal and allow the Lakers to clear even more money if he still wants to sign with them, given the Thunder don’t achieve the ultimate goal of winning a championship.

By no means does this story suggest that this move is certain or even that Cleveland doesn’t want James to return. But, if James has already made up his mind that a move to L.A. is in his best interests, then he will make that move no matter what. Winning a championship for Cleveland in 2016 only makes this kind of decision that much easier after accomplishing what you set out to do.

Ultimately, the belief that James will re-sign in Cleveland is growing and, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, it’s truly only down to two teams, the Lakers and the Cavaliers. With June 29th, James’ deadline to opt-in, rapidly approaching and the first of July right around the corner, #LeBronWatch is really just getting started.

Also Read, from Cavs writer Nick Pedone:

Why LeBron James Staying in Cleveland is Gaining Traction

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