LeBron's Next Team, Ranked by Who Would Make Cleveland Fans Angriest
LeBron may not be long for The Land. According to various reports, James is frustrated with how the Cleveland Cavaliers have handled the offseason. James apparently expected the Cavs to be aggressive and acquire players who would help his team overcome the Golden State Warriors, their foe in an NBA Finals rivalry that looks destined to repeat for a fourth straight summer. Instead, Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert tore apart his team’s front office and presumably began penning his next Comic Sans communique.
When James left for Miami in 2010, Cleveland fans took to the streets and burned his jersey in effigy. When he returned to Cleveland in 2014, many of those same fans rejoiced. When he ended the city’s pitiful 52-year pro sports championship drought in 2016, they all celebrated.
To some Cavaliers fans, James has fulfilled his duty and can leave again as a free agent next summer. But, of course, some people just want to watch the jerseys burn. Below, we assess (on a scale from one to five Burning James Jerseys) how angry Cavs fans would be based on possible new courts for the King.
The Process has left Philadelphia with two important potential factors in luring LeBron: Ben Simmons and a ton of cap space in 2018. James and Simmons have a photographically proven friendship, and they're both represented by Klutch Sports. Moving to Philadelphia could give James the opportunity to take Simmons under his wing and declare a future megastar his protege.
But more importantly, the 76ers again opted to build through the draft this offseason and declined to sign any large multiyear contracts for free agents. They will have plenty of money to throw at James next summer, and the rumor mill is already running rampant.
The only thing unclear in this hypothetical world is how Sam Hinkie truthers would be able to credit their savior for signing LeBron two years after being fired, but smart money says they’d find a way.
New York Knicks
There is a spirited competition among NBA franchises for the title of "most dysfunctional," but Cleveland and New York are among the front-runners. If the root of James’ discontent is truly Cleveland’s lackluster offseason, then it would be beyond bizarre for Cavs fans to watch him depart for James Dolan’s franchise. It's also unclear if the current Knicks front office has carried over the same "no posse" rules from Phil Jackson's tenure.
If Carmelo Anthony is already on another team (like, say, the Houston Rockets) by that time, the move makes even less sense. Then again, nothing in Knickland ever makes sense. Sure, Cavs fans would burn LeBron’s jerseys if he went to New York, but not out of hatred; it would be out of a resigned realization that life is random and meaningless.
One thing left unsaid so far is that it would clearly be worse for Cavs fans to watch James leave for another team in the East than the West (with one notable exception). And although divisions don’t really matter in the NBA, it would be weird for James to move to another Central team.
It would be especially painful for longtime Cleveland fans to see him in Chicago, which, with the help of a guy named Michael Jordan, eliminated the Cavs from the playoffs four times from 1988 to 1993.
Going to Jordan’s city would possibly reunite James and Dwyane Wade (who is an unrestricted free agent next summer but would presumably stay to play with his close friend), but it would also be an unbelievably bold move for James. The King has struggled to escape the shadow of His Airness, and here he would have to change his jersey number—the Bulls have already retired Jordan's No. 23. Would guiding the Bulls to an NBA title for the first time since Jordan help James' legacy?
Can you imagine James announcing on television that he is taking his talents back to Miami? Sitting in the same director’s chair, in that same button-up shirt, using the Heat to burn Cleveland once again? The internet would break.
It would also cause Cavaliers fans some serious PTDSD (post-The Decision stress disorder). Wade is an unrestricted free agent in 2018, and the two could decide to go back to where they won a pair of championships together.
It seems unlikely they would return given the erosion in their relationships with Heat boss Pat Riley, but maybe he could convince them—and a third star—to revisit the good vibes of South Beach. Of course, only one other move on this list would be as detrimental to LeBron’s legacy, so it seems highly unlikely right now.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Adrian Wojnarowski report that initially ignited these James rumors specifically cited the Lakers as one of the superstar’s desired destinations. And through some creative—nay, Magic—maneuvering during this year’s NBA draft, the Lakers have plenty of cap room to bring in a superstar like LeBron James or Paul George.
James already has a home in Los Angeles, and he appears to be interested in Hollywood as a post-basketball career path. This earns extra burning jerseys because it seems like the most realistic landing spot for LeBron, and he would probably be able to do something in L.A. that he hasn’t been able to do in Cleveland—attract other big-name free agents.
LeBron James joining the Celtics seems like way more than just a long shot.
First of all, there's no way James—who has gone to great lengths to preserve his hairline—would want to be compared to Gordon Hayward's salon-quality 'do on a nightly basis.
More importantly, leaving Cleveland for Boston would be at least as bad as—if not worse than—leaving for Miami in 2010. James would immediately make the Cavs’ main Eastern Conference rival a championship contender.
Seeing what the brilliant basketball mind of Brad Stevens would do with the greatest player in the universe would be fun to watch, but does the world really need more Boston sports titles? Regardless, this hypothetical move gets four burning jerseys because it would lead to the most righteous outrage among Cavaliers fans—with one exception...
Golden State Warriors
Forget the logistics for now and just for a moment imagine James joining the Warriors.
Among the many ramifications, the entire NBA season—not just the regular season, but also the playoffs and even the Finals—would be meaningless.
There’d be no reason to watch other than to see how many points the Warriors were crushing their opponents by each night. The columns written in print and online and the arguments shouted on television would make the "Kevin Durant is a sellout" takes look like polite discourse by comparison.
And then add the logistical element: Essentially, the only way for the Warriors to sign James would be for him to agree to play for the veteran’s minimum. Imagine watching your hometown hero leave for your fiercest rival and then dominate the NBA for years to come.
There would be no LeBron James Cavaliers jerseys left in the world.