The biggest domino in NBA free agency fell Sunday night, when LeBron James left Cleveland yet again to sign a four-year, $154 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. The announcement came in a decidedly less dramatic fashion than the last time he left the Cavs. There was no ceremony. No press conference. Just an unembellished press release from his agent.
James left money on the table to join the Lakers—the Cavs could have paid him $207 million over five years—to join a team that has missed the playoffs for the past five years. But it was little surprise. The Lakers, one of the NBA's most storied franchises, always seemed the likeliest landing spot for LeBron this off-season. And as The Ringer reports, that's only partially because of basketball:
LeBron owns two mansions in Brentwood and has invested in numerous businesses across the city, and it’s where Klutch Sports, the sports-management agency that represents James, conducts some of its business and where Uninterrupted, James’s sports media and entertainment company, is primarily based. Multiple sources across the industry have confirmed that James’s son, Bronny, has committed to play basketball at private-school powerhouse Sierra Canyon, which was first mentioned by Gary Payton in an interview with Black Sports Online. With his family settled and a long-term contract with his new team, James can begin his transition to his postcareer life. Movie star. Businessman. Team owner. In Los Angeles, LeBron will continue building his empire in his spare time, when he isn’t competing for championships.
But before LeBron becomes the next Dwayne Johnson, he'll want to win a couple more titles in L.A. That won't be easy given the team playing a few hundred miles up the coast.
The Golden State Warriors are still the favorites in Vegas to win the NBA championship next year, with 10/11 odds according to Westgate. The Lakers, tied with the Celtics at 7/2, aren't far behind though.
Clearly, LeBron still needs help in L.A. if he wants to topple the Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. The Lakers got to work on that Sunday, at least at the margins, signing Lance Stephenson and Javale McGee. Neither is going to play a major role in whatever the Lakers do next season, but they could be helpful pieces.
Still, the most helpful piece who could join LeBron in L.A. is Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs forward who is reportedly dead set on joining his hometown Lakers.
Whether the Spurs and Lakers can make a trade happen is more unclear than ever though. Center Demarcus Cousins, who James once called “the best big man in our game,” is another option to put on the purple and gold. And if the Lakers wait a year, next summer brings with it a handful of stud free agents, including Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving.
But Magic Johnson would be unwise to wait on finding the Robin to LeBron's Batman. As the 33-year-old proved last year, he's still the greatest basketball player on the planet, but that won't last forever. The Lakers now have a four-season window to win more titles and that's unlikely to happen with Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball as LeBron's sidekicks. At least not this year.
Lakers fans would be forgiven for not worrying too much about what comes next though. Their team just signed the greatest NBA player of all-time. That calls for some celebration.