By bringing an NBA championship trophy to Cleveland, LeBron James fulfilled his duty to his hometown. With that title under his belt, James now has the political capital to prioritize promoting his personal brand, growing his business interests, and adding to his basketball legacy when he hits the free agent market on July 1, 2018. The pressure is on the Cavaliers’ makeshift front office to build a championship roster around LeBron, and they have disappointed thus far. Recent actions and business decisions by James and his agent, Rich Paul, could offer insight into which franchises LeBron considers viable free agent destinations. Let’s dive into conspiracy land. Remember, I am only speculating.
Many NBA analysts have posited that the Los Angeles Lakers will be a major player for LeBron’s services, and I have to agree. Los Angeles attracts celebrities like no other city, and James values his life outside of basketball.
Unlike many other free agency rumors that have surrounded the Lakers in recent years, this one has merit. First, James, Paul, and business manager Maverick Carter have all purchased multi-million dollar homes in the Los Angeles area within the last two years. James and Carter also own SpringHill Entertainment, a production company headquartered in Los Angeles. Additionally, James is an investor and franchise owner of Blaze Pizza, a Pasadena-based pizza chain.
These long-term investments by LeBron’s inner circle suggest that James plans to relocate to Los Angeles after his playing career. Making the move a few years early and returning the Lakers to glory would be enticing.
Clearly, James has been setting himself up for a move to Los Angeles, either in retirement or in free agency next summer. How have the Lakers been preparing to capitalize on the opportunity?
On February 21, the Lakers hired Magic Johnson as President of Basketball Operations. James and Johnson seem to have mutual respect for each other. James told the Associated Press that he would choose Johnson and Michael Jordan as his teammates for a hypothetical 3-on-3 team. Johnson called James, “one of the greatest that has ever laced them up,” in an interview with CNBC. Also, Johnson has made the transition from NBA superstar to successful businessman, the same leap James plans to make. Theoretically, Johnson could serve as a role model and mentor to James.
One of Johnson’s first transactions as President of the Lakers was trading D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the 2017 draft. The deal freed the Lakers of the final three years of Mozgov’s disastrous contract. In return, the Nets gave them Lopez, an expiring contract that allows Los Angeles to create maximum cap flexibility next summer and offer James a maximum contract.
Next, Los Angeles signed free agent shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a 1-year, $18 million contract. This transaction connects the Lakers to LeBron on multiple levels. Like Lopez, Caldwell-Pope’s 1-year deal takes up none of the Lakers’ precious Summer 2018 cap space. Also, Caldwell-Pope is a client of Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports Group. The Pistons renounced Caldwell-Pope after trading for Avery Bradley, sending Caldwell-Pope into a free agency market where most teams with cap space had already spent it. Johnson threw Paul a life vest, hoping that Paul will return the favor in the future.
While the Lakers have been one of the worst teams in the NBA in recent years, signing James could return them to contender status Oklahoma City star forward Paul George will likely head to Los Angeles with or without James. James and George, along with rising stars Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, could compete with Golden State in the Western Conference.
To create a true superteam, however, Los Angeles would have to add a third superstar. Coincidentally, Washington point guard John Wall, another Klutch Sports client, has not accepted a 4-year, $170 million extension from the Wizards. Wall will not hit free agency until 2019, but if his actions continue to point to a future outside of Washington, the Wizards could look to trade him. With prospects like Ball, Ingram, and Julius Randle, as well as the expiring contracts of Lopez and Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers will have a treasure chest of assets at their disposal if the opportunity arises.
Early next week, I will take a look at the possibility of James joining the Sixers. Stay tuned for Part Two, where social media takes a bigger role.