We believe it could be in LeBron James’ best interest to stay put for a year
In case you haven’t heard, LeBron James could be a free agent this summer. He has a player option that he can opt out from, and change teams again. But in my opinion, LeBron should opt IN with Cleveland and wait until 2019 before making his final move. Here’s why:
(1) the Cavs’ supporting cast should be strong in 2018-19
I love the trades that GM Koby Altman made for Cleveland at the deadline. They shipped out three “stars” like Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, and Derrick Rose, none of whom appeared to be good fits for this team in terms of play style or attitude. In their place, they added role players like George Hill and Rodney Hood who happen to mesh really well with LeBron James. In fact, Hill and Hood are almost the ideal running mates for James; they’re both long defenders and both “plus” three point shooters.
Furthermore, this new core appears to be young enough to thrive in 2018 and next season in ’18-19. Essentially, they’re all still in their primes. At this time next year, Kevin Love will be 30. Rodney Hood will be 26. Larry Nance will be 26. Tristan Thompson will be 27. George Hill may be a little past his prime at 32 (next year), but that’s not exactly ancient either. Given his presumed role on the team, he should still up be for that task.
Before the trade, I thought the Cavs were the 3rd best team in the East. After the trade, I think they’re back to “favorite” status. Presuming they re-sign Rodney Hood, they have an excellent chance to make the Finals again in 2019.
(2) The Lakers won’t be ready by 2018-19
Conversely, the young Laker core is still a few years away from their prime years. By this time next year, Brandon Ingram will still only be 21. Lonzo Ball will be 21. Kyle Kuzma will be 23. That’s not a championship-level supporting cast by any stretch of the imagination.
The one exception may be if the Lakers can lure in Paul George to complement LeBron James. George is phenomenal, but I still don’t know if that roster would be good enough to beat Golden State. Perhaps the team can ship out Ball or Ingram for more veteran talent, but that’s a lot of steps to project.
Of course, LeBron could always go to a more ready-made team like Houston or San Antonio, but I’m not sure he wants to adjust his playing style too much at this stage in his career.
(3) The Warriors won’t be vulnerable in 2018-19 (but may be afterwards)
Houston and now Cleveland have the horses to give Golden State a good fight this season, but I’d still tout the Warriors as the heavy favorite.
Nothing about that will change next season (2018-19) either. Role player Andre Iguodala’s age may be an issue for Golden State, but their big 4 stars will still be locked in their prime and locked under contract.
The same can’t be said about the following year, starting in the summer of 2019. For the first time, their dynasty may show cracks. Klay Thompson is slated to be a free agent that summer. In theory, he should want to stay with Golden State and keep winning rings, but by that point he may be coming off his 4th championship and want a new role/new challenge instead.
In fact, THAT may be LeBron’s best chance of beating Golden State. If he goes to the Lakers in 2019 and teams up with KLAY (whose father played for the Lakers), then that’s a double shot against the Warriors. He’ll make the Lakers stronger, and the Warriors weaker. I would favor LeBron+the young Lakers+Klay versus the Warriors minus Klay.
Obviously, the Warriors will try to lock up Klay Thompson before that doomsday scenario, but it may not be easy. They also may be having second thoughts about a max extension for Draymond Green, who will be on an expiring contract at that point.
But the bottom line is: if the Warriors are going to fall, it’ll more likely be in 2019-20 than next year. LeBron James should plan accordingly.