The prediction that LeBron James will leave Cleveland in search of a better chance to win championships is not a novel idea. So where will he go? Here are the most likely scenarios:
1. Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers are $38 mil under the cap, so signing LeBron should be a lock, right? Not necessarily. They wouldn’t have any money left to pay J.J. Redick, Belinelli, Amir Johnson, and Ilyasova, which combined for $46 mil in 2017-18, and that each made significant contributions to the Sixers’ success. Conversely, would the emergence of Markelle Fultz, and whomever the Sixers draft at #10 (Mikal Bridges?) make up for those losses? While that’s unknown, the combination of Embiid, Simmons, and LeBron would essentially guarantee more Finals appearances, as that trio would be tough to beat in the East.
2. Golden State Warriors. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but would the Warriors trade Draymond+Iguodala to sign LeBron? LeBron wants to win, and joining the Warriors would ensure that. To make it work, the Warriors would have to clear cap space, as LeBron’s salary for 2018-2019 was on the books for $35 mil. I’ve seen articles that suggest Klay Thompson would get traded, but I don’t think so. Trading Draymond and Iguodala, at $17.5 and $16 mil, is close enough to LeBron’s salary, and is the most likely scenario.
3. New Orleans Pelicans. Are Pelicans going to give Demarcus Cousins a max deal despite his Achilles injury? If not, they’re $12 mil under the cap. Trading Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca frees up another $18 million, which would be close to $30 million for LeBron. Davis-Holiday-LeBron-Rondo-Mirotic may be the best starting 5 in the league!
4. Indiana Pacers. Going to the Pacers keeps LeBron in the East, which may be an easier road to the Finals than going to the West. Indiana is already $15 million under the $108 million salary cap for 2018-2019, so for the money to work out, Indiana would need to free up another ~$16-19 million. Trading Al Jefferson ($10 mil) and Corey Joseph ($8 mil) would accomplish that.
5. Portland Trail Blazers.LeBron to the Blazers is a bit more complicated in terms of moving enough $ out of Portand to make it work. If the Trail Blazers can move Evan Turner ($17 mil), Meyers Leonard ($10 mil), and Al-Farouq Aminu ($7 mil), they will have moved enough salary to sign LeBron. However, that Portland got swept by the Pelicans in the 1st round probably won’t help LeBron’s decision to go there.
6. Houston Rockets. If the Rockets can move Ryan Anderson ($20mil) and P.J. Tucker’s ($8 mil) salary without taking any salary back, and if Chris Paul and LeBron are willing to take ~$30 mil, instead of $35 mil each, then this can work. However, trading Anderson and not taking any salary back is unlikely.
7. Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers are ~$70 million under the cap, so they can easily sign LeBron, but who else? Do Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony join him in LA for that amount? If so, do would the Lakers trade Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram to make more cap space? Would a LeBron-Paul-Carmelo-Kuzma-Josh Hart team be enough to take on the Warriors?