When LeBron James announced last week that he was declining the player option on his Cleveland Cavaliers contract, we all know that the balance in the NBA would shift somewhere, if King James decided to leave Cleveland for the second time. Well, James did decide to leave the Land again and as expected, the balance of power shifted.
Barely 24 hours after Paul George declared that he was going to stay in Oklahoma City to complete ‘unfinished business’ with the Thunder, LeBron James said that he was taking his talents to Hollywood. Through his agency Klutch Sports, James announced that he had accepted a four year $153.3M deal to play for the Los Angeles Lakers beginning next season.
James’ announcement immediately moved the Lakers from a +2000 underdog to win the 2019 NBA title to a +350 at the Las Vegas SuperBook. With LeBron now in Los Angeles, the Lakers are tied with the Boston Celtics for the second best odds to win the 2019 NBA title. The Houston Rockets, who tool the Dubs to a deciding 7th game in the 2018 Western Conference Finals are in fourth place with their +700.
Here are the odds from the Las Vegas SuperBook within minutes after James’ announcement:
While the Lakers zoomed to the second spot, the Cleveland Cavaliers dropped from being a +3000 to a +50000 after James decided to leave a second time. Talk about the ability of one man to alter a franchise’s destiny. For now, though, it’s just on paper and on betting slips. Still, it’s impressive but then again, let us remember that he is LeBron James.
It’s easy to say that he is the best basketball player in the planet right now. But to quantify that, let us begin by saying that the teams that James has played for has made the playoffs in 13 consecutive seasons. None of his teams lost in the first round of the playoffs and nine of those teams made it all the way to the NBA Finals. In fact, James is the only non-member of the 50s and 60’s Boston Celtics team to play in at least eight consecutive NBA Finals. James accomplished that with the Heat 2011-14 and Cavaliers 2015-18.
Sure, you can argue that he didn’t do it alone. Not especially since he played with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland. But remember that only a handful expected his Cleveland Cavaliers to make the 2018 NBA Finals after they traded Kyrie Irving the previous summer. LeBron James is coming off one of the best individual playoffs performance in NBA history. You can’t argue with that. And you can’t bet against that.
Going to Los Angeles though won’t make LeBron’s life easier. The Lakers have missed the playoffs in the last five seasons and the young core that he will play with next season have never seen a playoff game. Doing it in the 2018 version of the Western Conference would be a much tougher job, given that to make the NBA Finals again, James now must go through the San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets and of course the Golden State Warriors. That’s not an easy task. Not without a super team. For now, the Lakers don’t have a super team but remember that in 2006-07, LeBron led a Cavaliers team whose starting backcourt was Eric Snow and Larry Hughes all the way to the 2007 NBA Finals. LeBron has done it before. He can do it again.
There is no super team in Los Angeles right now, at least not yet. What James currently has ( as of July 2, 2018 ) is a very talented young core of Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball who led the Lakers to an impressive 35-47 finish last season. While that team missed the playoffs last year, they showed plenty of promise and many experts felt that if they had one superstar on that team, they would have been better. Los Angeles didn’t just get one superstar to help that team. They have just signed the biggest prize in this year’s free agency market in LeBron James.
The Lakers were expected to add two max free agents this summer and it was supposed to be Paul George and LeBron James. They were also believed to be the top candidates to land disgruntled San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. But George is staying in Oklahoma City and there is no guarantee that either Leonard is going to Los Angeles.
Moving forward, the Lakers are still in play to sign and/or trade for Leonard. In fact, most are still convinced that the Lakers will still make one more big move in the offseason. For now, though, they have bolstered their line-up by bringing back Kentavious Caldwell Pope for one more season. The Lakers have also signed Indiana guard Lance Stephenson and Golden state center Javale McGee to one-year deals. These aren’t the max superstar that George, Leonard or Cousins are. But these are valuable veteran acquisitions that should compliment their young core and help them make the playoffs next season.
Right now, the Lakers don’t have the manpower to beat the Golden State Warriors. Again, at least not yet. But with LeBron James, the possibilities are limitless. Los Angeles has suddenly become an attractive destination for free agents and who knows who else is coming to Lala land. The Lakers have the financial flexibility and enough trade pieces to bring in another superstar to join the team. Or they can play out this season by surrounding LeBron James with young talent and veteran experience. Regardless, the Lakers’ fortunes have changed, for the better. Thanks to LeBron James.
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