In 2010, LeBron James took his talent to South Beach in a wildly and widely criticized move that allowed the fruition of the Miami Heat superteam—a group equally wildly and widely hated by other teams’ fan bases.
Four years later, perhaps the greatest player in the world today is once again exploring his options—including leaving his current team to move to a squad better suited to help him in his ring collection (two, so far: 2012 and 2013). Is there a realistic chance that he moves to another team like the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks or even return to the Cleveland Cavaliers?
On Tuesday, James’ camp officially announced that he was opting out of his current contract—worth over $20M—to open a wide range of possibilities that can change the NBA landscape in the next few years.
Which Team Will Land LeBron in 2014?
Whichever team James’ chooses one prerequisite is expected: it MUST give him the opportunity to win multiple NBA titles.
Another requirement is for the team to have the salary cap space to sign him outright—unless of course that franchise has the ability to clear space—via trades in this offseason immediately. (Note: salary cap for the 2014-2015 season is expected to hover around $63M)
Last option is to attempt a sign-and-trade with Miami—a good choice only if a team has the goods (talent + future picks) to attract the Heat front office.
These are the teams with ZERO chance at LeBron in 2014:
Brooklyn Nets – Already at $88M team salary; and no, LeBron won’t play with a 55-year-old Kevin Garnett, 54-year-old Paul Pierce and a fat Deron Williams.
New York Knicks – Not only is Carmelo Anthony leaving the Big Apple but he’s also leaving a ragtag crew of castoffs or past-their-prime players. They also have fat Raymond Felton.
Oklahoma City Thunder -$67.9M committed in 2014-15. And anyway, a Durant-James frontcourt is unfair, just ask the US Men’s National Team's opponents in the Olympics.
Toronto Raptors – LeBron in Toronto? Canada should explode and forget about hockey but they don’t have enough key pieces to contend for a title. They have cap space to throw at but probably will look elsewhere.
Boston Celtics – They have the cap space, the future picks (thanks to Brooklyn) but no star to speak of except for Rajon Rondo.
Memphis Grizzlies – No cap space with $64.2M committed in 2014-15 that is if Randolph picks up his $16M player option for the new season and he will since he will not net that kind of contract elsewhere LBJ's a good fit with the Gasol-Conley cornerstone but just don’t have the financial leverage.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Already involved in the Kevin Love drama, they probably won’t entertain being in another chase. Although a Love-LeBron sign and swap can be a good conversation starter.
New Orleans Pelicans – An Anthony Davis and LeBron duo would be a monster defensive pairing. Then again, there’s doubt if LBJ will want to play with the likes of Eric Gordon AND especially, Tyreke Evans, a ball-stopper.
Denver Nuggets – $64M in committed contracts in 2014-2015. Their team will be gutted in a sign-and-trade with Miami. So, no.
Charlotte Hornets– LeBron playing for Michael Jordan’s team? Why would the G.O.A.T. help the G.O.A.T.-wannabe get to G.O.A.T. status?
Sacramento Kings – Capped out non-contenders.
Detroit Pistons – Major cap space but doesn’t have the players to contend even with LeBron the next season or so.
San Antonio Spurs – No. Spurs won’t stoop down to this level even if it means championships in the next five years.
Utah Jazz – Biggest capspace among all teams and that’s because they still have to re-sign current key players in Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors to long-term contracts. Not a contender.
Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers – High draft picks, serviceable players but not enough to attract LeBron. If any, just a trade partner for the Heat if Riley wants to rebuild.
Indiana Pacers – No.
Low Chance of Netting LeBron:
Washington Wizards – Made a good/great run in the postseason and have cap space ($45M) but with Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat as free agents. If they keep those guys, they won’t have money to throw at LeBron; and if they let them go they won’t have enough key players to contend.
Golden State Warriors – No cap space with $65.1M committed in 2014-15. Can they unload the contracts of David Lee ($30M/2 years) or Andrew Bogut ($36.1M/3 years)? Can they entice Miami to a sign-and-trade? Nearly impossible on both counts.
Portland Trail Blazers – Doesn’t have enough to sign LeBron outright but would a sign-and-trade centering around Nicolas Batum and some be enough to attract Miami?
Houston Rockets – Salary committed for 2014-2015: a whopping $70M. Unless they can trade away the contracts of Jeremy Lin/Omer Asik (combined $30M) there is no way they can sign LeBron outright. Still if James demands a sign-and-trade to this Texas team and Miami wants to get something…
Los Angeles Clippers – Reports out of L.A. is that they are willing to give up Blake Griffin for LeBron. If true, a good deal for Miami to explore a sign-and-trade.
Los Angeles Lakers – They have cap space and Kobe Bryant’s contract and nothing else. But because it’s Hollywood, the glitz and glamour, maybe LeBron will consider nonetheless.
Phoenix Suns – With cap space even after they give large extension to Eric Bledsoe. Good coaching and depth so adding LeBron may push them over the top and push them to West contender status.
Top Contenders in the LeBron Chase Version 2:
Atlanta Hawks - $47.9M committed in 2014-2015. Team has a system that is being called “The Spurs of the East”. That sounds like a tasty proposition for LeBron, who is a known bandwagoner based on The Decision 1.0. A starting five of Al Horford/Paul Millsap/LBJ/Kyle Korver/Jeff Teague is an instant East contender.
Cleveland Cavaliers – It’s the only move that will atone for Decision 1.0 and fans (casual and Cleveland-based) will forgive-and-forget LeBron’s first (deplorable) act. The Cavs have a big cap space too ($32.1M committed in 2014-2015), they have a current star (Kyrie Irving) and the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Not an immediate contender by any means but they can attract free agents especially if they convince the King to return home.
Chicago Bulls – Amnestying Carlos Boozer ($16.8M) should be a good start in clearing its salary cap for LeBron. Great fit on court (Noah-Gibson-James-Butler-Rose) but past East rivalry could come into play. Will James actually forget that Noah talked trash against him in the past? Then again, winning cures everything; with that potential starting five that is stacked and versatile, LeBron will forget about Noah’s antics when they shoot for a 72-10 record in the 2014-2015 season.
Dallas Mavericks – Cap space, stars and a returning star willing to take a paycut (Dirk Nowitzki). LeBron is also a Dallas Cowboys superfan—so maybe that counts for something.
And of course, staying with the Miami Heat is still an option for LeBron. Who knows, maybe he opted out of the contract to sign a cheaper deal in Miami?
To recap, that’s a dozen out of 30 NBA team that has a legit chance of getting LeBron—and down to five, realistically speaking-- the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat have the tools and money to attract the superstar free agent.
Like the first “The Decision”, the second one will again define the NBA landscape in the coming years and more importantly for LeBron, his choice will define his legacy in the NBA.