One day after a stunning defeat in the 2014 NBA Finals and the LeBron James free-agency rumor mill is up and running. Per Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, James and his wife Savannah have a deep affection for the city of Los Angeles.
"The Los Angeles Clippers? Well, a source said James and his wife, Savannah, love Los Angeles. LeBron James also is close with Clippers point guard Chris Paul and he admires coach Doc Rivers. But the Clippers already have at minimum $66 million in committed salary next season, which leaves no room for James’ max salary."
Everyone loves Los Angeles. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s focus on the real, underlying matter at hand.
LeBron James playing in Los Angeles is a pipe-dream. The Eastern Conference is a cakewalk and it’d take real talent and championship promise to lure him away from the safe constraints of Pat Riley and the Miami Heat. With real talent being important, that all but rules out the Lakers. They want LeBron, but don’t have the nuances to draw him toward the franchise besides history and as we’ve seen these last few years, history can’t come down from the rafters, suit up, and help you win games.
But the Clippers? They have it ‘all’ or at least on paper they do. What Dwyane Wade was supposed to be for LeBron this past year? Chris Paul is that player. What Erik Spoelstra has done for LeBron, Doc Rivers can do that. What Chris Bosh brings to the game, Blake Griffin can do that–‘that’ maybe not being all the things Bosh can do, but when it comes down the judging talent, Griffin wins in that battle–and that may be all that matters as James comes off a NBA Finals loss where 2007 felt eerily familiar. There’s no Micky Arison or Pat Riley in LA; instead a crazed owner who LeBron spoke emphatically of, postponing the transfer in ownership to Steve Ballmer.
There are issues in getting James to California. For one, cap space is a major issue. In 2014-15, the trio of Paul-Griffin-DeAndre Jordan will make roughly $49 million combined.. J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Reggie Bullock, Jared Dudley are owed roughly $14.5 million. Danny Granger has a player option and Jamal Crawford/Willie Green are owed $6.9 million, both contracts being non-guaranteed. The 28th pick of the NBA draft is allotted nearly $800k in cap space. There’s no space for James on the roster unless he takes a massive pay cut, something that’s highly unlikely. Remove Crawford, Green, Granger, and the 28th pick from the equation and that leaves the Clips with ~$64.82 million. Even with the luxury tax line reportedly rising to $77 million, this leaves the Clippers with ~$12 million in cap space for James along with a taxpayers mid-level exception, bi-annual exception, and veterans minimums to fill out the remainder of the roster. Considering how tough the Western Conference is, that’s not an ideal situation.
There are options though.
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The most obvious would be acquiring LeBron in a sign-and-trade, dangling Reggie Bullock, the 28th overall pick, and Blake Griffin as bait in the face of Miami. If James wants to leave he’s as good as gone and there’s nothing the Heat could do about, but what they could do is re-up by adding a young superstar to a team in Griffin with ample amount of cap space. Do you contend with Griffin and Wade as the two best players in the East? No, but you’d be in the right direction in regards to a fast rebuild we see often in the NBA (ie. Houston).
The least rigorous way to get James? Instead of using Griffin as a trade piece, you move DeAndre Jordan. He’s not as appealing as Griffin and could easily deter the Heat from a possible move due to the talent gap between Griffin and Jordan, but after a career-best season where the public perception took an abrupt turn for the better, he’s an appealing asset. Moving Jordan would allow the Clippers to retain Griffin and form a ‘Big 3′, an idea that could further woo James into the idea of LA.
You could run through multiple scenarios where James finds himself in LA and its quite the exercise seeing as he’s the best player in all of basketball and would immediately push this burgeoning Clippers team to a tier they so long for, but the odds aren’t in Los Angeles’ favor at the moment.
It’s early. The rumors are only just beginning. Take them all with a grain of salt and pay big attention to whom they derive from. “Sources” will be the most popular person you know this summer.