LeBron James Signing with L.A. Lakers Would Tarnish King James' Legacy

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2012

Oct 18, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the second half against the Detroit Pistons at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

There's only one thing that could get people to stop capitalizing "The Decision."

An even bigger one.

Such a decision wouldn't take place until the summer of 2014, but wouldn't you know there's already been discussion about what comes next for the three-time MVP (via ESPN's Brian Windhorst):

Several teams' executives have told ESPN.com they believe the Lakers are positioning themselves to make a run at LeBron James in 2014, when the Miami Heat star can choose to become a free agent.

It goes without saying that the speculation among a few executives hardly constitutes anything concrete, but then again why wouldn't the Lakers go after LeBron? 

James is scheduled to receive over $20 million in each of 2014-15 and 2015-16, but he also has the option of voiding his contract in either season and testing the free-agent market. Whether he decides to do so is anyone's guess. At the moment, he's only confirming that he's still playing with the Miami Heat...for now.

After his preseason matchup with the Detroit Pistons on Thursday, ESPN's Michael Wallace reports that James said, "I'm here, and this is what it's all about. I'm preparing for this season, preparing to defend our title and that's it. This is where...I'm here now."

Hardly a reassuring commitment, especially coming from James. 

On the one hand, the notion of the 2012 NBA Finals MVP leaving such a successful organization seems far-fetched. Abandoning the Cleveland Cavaliers is one thing, but ditching the club that secured your first title is quite another.

But if LeBron takes a more forward-looking approach, the Heat of the future may look less appealing than the Heat of 2012.

Dwyane Wade will be 32 in 2014, set to turn 33 in January, 2015. Chris Bosh will be looking even more like a mid-range shooting specialist. Contracts belonging to veterans Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis will have expired, and there's no telling whether any of the three will return given their age.

None of that necessarily suggests the imminent decline of what should remain a talented roster one way or the other.

It's important context, nonetheless, especially in a world where a fallout with Wade or disappointing postseason finish could tip the scales. If there weren't any compelling alternatives, perhaps James would stay the course regardless of where the Heat were headed.

Unfortunately, there is at least one compelling alternative: Following in Kobe Bryant's footsteps and pairing with Dwight Howard for the league's most storied franchise.

As epic as such a relocation may seem, it's a bad idea for at least a couple of reasons.

A James-Howard tandem would instantly become perhaps the most despised duo in league history, particularly in the wake of a Miami exit. The entire state of Florida would boo anytime either one of these guys touched the ball.

LeBron would cement his legacy as an opportunist, ruining the increasingly accepted narrative that he was just an embattled savant whose title chances required him to part ways with his beloved Cleveland.

He'd also become almost entirely derivative, drawing endless comparisons to Bryant regardless of his Lakers' success.

The assumption underlying much of this is that Kobe will retire when his contract expires in 2014, something the iconic shooting guard has described as a real "possibility" on several occasions. Los Angeles might be able to land James even if it re-signs Bryant, creating a super team of mind-numbing proportions.

Regardless of Bryant's decision, James would be expected to fill his shoes eventually.

That's something he'll never have to worry about in Miami. No one's wondering if he'll ever measure up to Tim Hardaway.

It would be a lose-lose situation for James, but for the opportunity to win more championships. The question is whether those championships would count for quite as much, a question for which Heat fans have a decisive answer.