LeBron James’ decision to leave Cleveland for Miami in the summer of 2010 is one of the most memorable sports stories of this decade. But after all the drama since LeBron’s return to Cleveland, it seems almost likely he will want to build the final pieces of his legacy somewhere else. The dominant narrative is that he will go the Lakers and play in his new hometown, Los Angeles. However there are many places and many ways for LeBron to pursue his obsession of becoming the greatest of all time.
- The Chicago Bulls – The Bulls will be in a unique position this summer. They should have a top pick in the draft, more cap space to sign free agents than any other team and several young players with high trade value. LeBron has often spoken of his desire to play on the same team with Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. All four can be free agents this summer. The Bulls might be the only team with enough cap space to make this work. Then they have valuable draft picks and several young, talented players to offer in trades. The Bulls could also employ the Miami Heat strategy of veteran minimum contracts for the right role players and bring back guys like Tyson Chandler, Jamal Crawford and Luol Deng to help create a fully realized 21st century Chicago Bulls legacy that is ultimately cemented with plenty of championships, retired jerseys and at least a few Hall of Fame inductions.
- The Memphis Grizzlies – LeBron James is grit and grind. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are both All-NBA level talent. Memphis will likely have a top 5 pick that they can either trade or use to get a quality player to put next to LeBron and company. If LeBron does sign with Memphis, perhaps he could get in Jimmy Butler’s ear and convince him to come to the Grindhouse 2.0. Then maybe Memphis veterans Zach Randolph and Tony Allen would be interested in coming back to help win the first championship in Grizzlies franchise history.
- The New Orleans Pelicans – If Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins both re-sign with New Orleans, the Pelicans would be an extremely interesting team for LeBron to consider. Position-less basketball is the future. New Orleans is already one of the most interesting teams to watch in the NBA. If DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are both executing their games, the Pelicans are extremely hard to beat. But if one of them gets in foul trouble or is hurt or not playing well, the Pelicans have a hard time winning games. LeBron’s defense alone would add so much to the Pelicans. If LeBron wants at least six championships before he retires, high risk and high reward is exactly what the Pelicans can offer.
- The Dallas Mavericks – The Dallas Mavericks are interesting. People might not consider them an elite NBA franchise, but they only have one less championship than the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. Rick Carlisle led Dallas to their first title in the 2010-2011 Finals against LeBron’s first Miami Heat team. No matter how many titles LeBron wins or Finals he plays in, the all-time scoring record currently held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is absolutely on the table. And with Dirk Nowitzki flirting with entering the top five for all-time scoring, he would have a great incentive to play at least one more year if LeBron James comes to Dallas. People might not think of Dallas as an essential NBA franchise, but if they suddenly have their best franchise player at number five in all-time scoring and then LeBron James breaking Kareem’s record in a Maverick’s jersey, suddenly Dallas is absolutely in the same sentence as at least the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. A lot of teams that have the money to sign LeBron won’t be ready fast enough to win a title, like the Clippers and Lakers. Rick Carlisle is a genius. Even if LeBron isn’t surrounded by superstars, Carlisle’s system is an interesting possibility to keep LeBron in championship contention. And with Dirk’s track record of accepting less money so the team can get better talent, LeBron could bring with him Dwyane Wade, J.R. Smith and some of his other favorite teammates.
- The Detroit Pistons – LeBron James has always believed in Eastern Conference basketball. It isn’t pretty, but it works. Andre Drummond is one of the best centers in the league and Reggie Jackson is one of the more under-rated players in the NBA. They might have some re-organizing to do but the Pistons make more sense for LeBron than people might assume. Like Rick Carlisle, there are some interesting links between LeBron and Stan Van Gundy. Stan Van’s Orlando Magic eliminated LeBron’s 2008-2009 Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Rarely does an NBA franchise fire their head coach and still go on to win a championship the same year. One of the few examples is when Tyronn Lue replaced David Blatt in Cleveland during the 2015-2016 regular season. Pat Riley is also one of the few coaches to take over a team mid-season and still win a championship the same year. And when Stan Van Gundy stepped down as Miami’s head coach in 2005-2006, Pat Riley replaced him to ultimately lead Miami to its first franchise championship. Perhaps LeBron and Stan Van Gundy have enough in common that they can make something work? The NBA is always better when the Pistons are good. And as teams like the Sixers and Bucks work their way towards championship contention, winning in the Eastern Conference is going to get harder. Imagine a dominant Eastern Conference ultimately led by LeBron James and Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons, building upon the already rich history of Detroit basketball.
Thursday Simpson is from rural Illinois. She has a BA from the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared in Diabolique Magazine, Rhino Poetry, The Breakroom Stories, Fishfood Magazine and Far Off Places.