LeBron James Reportedly 'Likely' to Join Lakers or Clippers as 2018 Free Agent

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2017

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James warms up before Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

When LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, many expected he'd finish his NBA career in northeast Ohio. However, he may go westward when he can opt out of his contract after the 2017-18 season.

Speaking on his podcast Wednesday, The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski (h/t Pro Basketball Talk's Dan Feldman) reported the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers may be destinations for James in free agency:

"Not only is there no guarantee he’s coming back, I’m not sure there’s an expectation he’s re-signing there. I think they feel, I think within Cleveland and around the league, they feel that he’s very much in play to leave again and likely head out West to one of the two L.A. teams. The Lakers could very well be a target."

Wojnarowski speculated James would feel more comfortable leaving Cleveland a second time since he helped the Cavaliers win an NBA championship in 2016. And being in Los Angeles would allow the four-time MVP to pursue ventures he has outside of basketball.

Having his representatives float the idea he could sign with another team could be a way for LeBron to shake the Cavaliers front office out of any contentedness it may feel with reaching three straight NBA Finals and beating the Golden State Warriors a year ago.

It's not like Cavs general manager David Griffin rested on his laurels during Cleveland's title defense—trading for Kyle Korver and signing Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut in the middle of the year. The threat of LeBron departing again would ensure that remains the case.

Of course, James may simply want to play for another team. The Cavaliers are almost $27 million over the cap heading into next year, per Spotrac, so they have little flexibility with which they can improve the roster. Barring the trade of Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving, Griffin can't do anything resembling the impact of the Warriors signing Kevin Durant last summer.

The Clippers or the Lakers, on the other hand, may be better positioned in 2018 to challenge Golden State. The Clippers would need to re-sign both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, while the Lakers would need to acquire a marquee star before then.

Still, either Los Angeles franchise could be in a stronger place than the Cavs a year from now, and each could give James an opportunity to build a new, different superteam.