FINAL DECISION?

It's time for LeBron James to move on from Cleveland

Lebron James should move on. Gregory Shamus

Friday night the NBA Finals mercifully came to an end as the Golden State Warriors swept a woefully outmanned Cleveland Cavaliers team. It was a boring, predictable bow pinned on the end of an otherwise entertaining 2017-2018 season.

As the last of the dust settles, and the talking heads begin their postseason prognosticating, the seemingly perennial question of LeBron James’ free agent status once again looms. Unlike the past few seasons, however, his decision isn’t as simple. Cleveland is no longer a shoo-in to retain its homegrown superstar, and Houston (yes, Houston) has emerged as a potential landing spot for --at the very least -- one of the top three basketball players on the planet.

So as it stands, prevailing wisdom suggests that the top destinations would be Cleveland, Philadelphia, Houston, or the Lakers. I personally think the Lakers have zero shot at luring James with the current roster--even if they managed to secure another superstar--so I'm not going to entertain that theory. Cleveland is always a possibility, especially because he has so much leverage in the front office there. But assuming he just re-signs doesn't make for a compelling article, so we'll assume he leaves.

And he should.

What more does he have to give/prove to Cleveland? He brought his hometown a Finals championship against one of the greatest basketball teams ever assembled. That's a legendary narrative. Asking for more would be selfish. Unlike his move to Miami, this time James has earned walking papers.

So assuming James astutely leaves Cleveland that leaves two logical destinations; Houston and Philly.

So why Philadelphia? Philly was one of the most surprising teams of the season due largely in part to the unexpectedly immediate contributions from big man Joel Embiid and rookie point guard Ben Simmons. Pairing LeBron with the uber athletic, pass-first Simmons and an imposing big in Embiid the likes of which James has never played with would make the 76ers an instant contender. Embiid is on the books for $25 million, yet Simmons is still on his rookie deal for a mere $6 million so Philly doesn't have to concoct any salary cap magic. And wherever James goes, hungry veterans will follow at a discount, knowing that he is their last chance at a ring. The players are there, and the money works. It wouldn't be the most illogical move.

While it's an appealing situation worth investigating, there are reasons, however, that could and should lead James to view them as the second best option.

First is their youth. Rookies and young platers very rarely play large roles on LeBron's teams. Most of that has to do with the fact that they're still trying to catch up to the pace and skill level of the league. LeBron teams are usually filled in with veterans who understand their role on the team and let LeBron do LeBron things. Would he be willing to endure the growing pains of playing with such a young core?

Secondly, while Simmons and Embiid are fantastic on the court, their track records for being able to stay on the court leave something to be desired. James played all 82 regular season games this year and then played three finals game with an injured hand. Would he be able to carry the 76ers if both pieces were lost for any significant stretch of time? I believe the answer is yes, but would a team missing either of those pieces make it back to the finals? Boston is poised to become a powerhouse next season and proved how deep their bench could go with the right coaching. That alone could be reason enough for James to pack up and head west, and I haven't even touched on the uncertainty regarding the 76ers front office after they sent Twitter genius and team president Brian Colangelo packing.

So that leaves us with Houston. The team with the best regular season record in the NBA. The team with the likely regular season MVP. The team that pushed the Golden State Warriors to seven games despite late season injuries to key players.

Assuming all star point guard Chris Paul re-signs with the Rockets, Houston would be sporting two superstars to shoulder some of a load that no one on that Cleveland team wanted to touch with a ten foot pole. This current Rockets team is as close to his Miami team as he's going to find, if not better. Plug in James and the Rockets could seemingly be level with the Warriors in terms of talent.

Rockets owner Tillman Fertita has already gone on record saying he's willing to incur the luxury tax if it means winning a championship, and the addition of James for all intents and purposes would signal the green light for such a move. What that implies is that the Rockets would not only have three superstars, they'd also have a bench to spell them.

The only snag at the moment preventing this from being a no-brainer is the Rockets’ current salary cap situation. There are moves that would need to be made, one of which would be offloading Ryan Anderson's contract on another team. That same contract was the ultimate hang up that prevented last summer's Carmelo Anthony acquisition and looks to be just as big of a pain in General Manager Daryl Morey’s side this year as well. Morey has proven to be a genius, though, so I'm not betting against ability to make it work.

So as Rockets fans continue to lament over their Western Conference Finals defeat, they should appreciate the Warriors for sweeping the Cavaliers. They showed LeBron that the answer for finals glory may not be in Cleveland anymore. More so, they may have sent him packing to Houston. Time will tell.


 

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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