Since everyone's polluting the internet with rampant speculation based on absolutely nothing, we figured we'd join in the game as well. We did this once before with A-Rod, which we got titanically wrong, but had a fun time doing. So let's dust off an old trick and once again countdown where we think LeBron should land, from least to most likely. We are going to take into account everything that a free agent should: roster composition, cap room, coach, and location.
You Get To Pick Where You Live, Right?
30. Memphis. We spent 5 minutes trying to figure out who was the best free agent this franchise has ever signed. The answer is a toss-up between Lee Mayberry and James Posey.
29. Minnesota. This franchise couldn't pursuade Ricky Rubio to leave the Euro League to play in the NBA for more money because it would have meant splitting time with Jonny Flynn and shoveling snow with Marge Gunderson. It's doubtful they can convince LeBron that his future lies in the hands of David Kahn.
28. Sacramento. The most famous people affiliated with Sacto are the Maloof Brothers, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Rodney King, and Joan Didion. We'd pay $500 to see LeBron have brunch with that group.
27. Milwaukee. They're actually trying to build a winner here, but if one of your goals is to be the Global Icon, the Cheese State is probably not the place to do it.
Now This Would Be Funny
26. Atlanta. This team has been competitive for two straight years and still has no fans. Also, what are the odds that LeBron and Josh Smith would get into a fight in the locker room? 1-20?
25. Washington. Congrats on winning the lottery! Condolences on the rest of your roster consisting of Gilbert Arenas, Gilbert Arenas' contract, Gilbert Arenas' guns, Tom Gugliotta, and 10 stiffs.
24. Golden State. Put aside problems associated with the potential sale of the team to Larry Ellison: this squad is already designed like a schoolyard team playing shirts and skins. This would be the NBA equivalent of A-Rod signing with the Rockies: an easy way to get to records, and nearly impossible to win anything in the process.
23. Charlotte. LeBron + The Utterly Batshit Crazy Stephen Jackson. We're still laughing at the concept.
We Have No Money
22. Indiana. Is there a less interesting team in pro sports than the Pacers? In the last 4 years they've won 32, 36, 36 and 35 games, haven't drafted high or a stud in 5 years, and somehow are still in salary cap hell.
21. Toronto. For the 2012-13 season, this franchise has committed almost $38 million to Andrea Bargnani, Hedo Terkoglu, Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack. We can't quite figure out how this happened because they fired Isiah Thomas over a decade ago.
20. Detroit. Similarly trapped in salary cap purgatory, they also have the double whammy of sucking.
19. Philadelphia. Somehow a team not run by Isiah has over $65 million in salary commitments for next year and had the 6th worst record in basketball last year. Oops.
18. New Orleans. And these guys have committed $73 million in salary commitments for next year, including a mind-boggling $11.5 million to Chukwuemeka Ndubuisi Okafor.
Doesn't Fit With Our Master Plan
17. Boston. They're about to win the Eastern Conference with a stud PG and an aging core. While there isn't a team that would say "no" to LeBron, we can't quite see how he fits in here, both monetarily or talent-wise.
16. Orlando. Well, he'd be a huge improvement from Vinsanity and Rashard Lewis' disappearance act this postseason, but the core of this roster seems pretty set for the near future, for better or for worse.
15. Utah. $54 million in contracts for next year, plus needs to decide what to do with Carlos Boozer. They'd be a potential player if it were 2011 with AK-47 coming off the books, but it's 2010.
14. San Antonio. They're probably going to shake it up a little this offseason with an aging core, but it's unclear how or why LeBron would go here to play with Tim Duncan for two years, unless he wants to steal Eva Longoria's heart.
Why Would I Play With Another SuperDuperStar?
13. Denver. We're sure him and Carmelo get along and all, and we agree that LeBron's better off going to a team that has at least one All-Star, but going to play with one of his top rivals seems unlikely, especially when you take into account they don't know who their coach is gonna be. Also, why sign up to play with guys like Kenyon Martin (right) who are never healthy?
12. Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron + Kobe? No. F'ing. Way.
11. Miami. People are hyping this as a real destination, but we can't see him and Dwayne Wade on the same team. Forget that LeBron won't want to be co-alpha dog with Wade, why would Wade want to cede the spotlight in South Beach to LeBron?
10. Cleveland. People are talking about how "loyal" LeBron could be by staying with Cleveland. Please. Cleveland ended up with James because they got ass-lucky in the 2003 lottery and got the first overall pick. They didn't draft him late, develop and nurture him like a minor leaguer baseball or hockey team. They took him because they were lucky. So because Cleveland got lucky in 2003, exploited him for all he was worth during that stretch, and paid his salary regularly while giving him 7 years of horrible supporting casts, he's supposed to spend the prime of his career living in the middle of Ohio? How does this make any sense?
Would Work and Be Fun, But Won't Happen
9. Phoenix. Steve Nash + LeBron + fun supporting cast (Richardson, Lopez, Frye and a few others) would actually be a competitive team even if they let Amar'e walk. We're not sure how they'd make this work cap-wise though, and while Phoenix is a magnet city, we can't quite see him in purple and gold.
8. Houston. The Rockets have said they intend to make a splash this offseason. Unfortunately, they appear to be looking for a big man like Chris Bosh, not The King.
7. Los Angeles Clippers. Yeah yeah yeah, they have the cap space, and have a good nucleus of Baron, Kaman, Blake Griffin, Bill Simmons and Eric Gordon. Close your eyes for a second. Can you honestly see LeBron wearing a Clippers uniform, playing for Donald Sterling? Didn't think so.
6. Oklahoma City. LeBron, Kevin Durant, and a fun young supporting cast would make this the dominant team for the decade. There are three real problems here: we can't see how it works under the cap, we can't see how Oklahoma City can potentially afford to pay LeBron, Durant and Russell Westbrook a total of $50 million every year, and we can't see why the Global Icon would leave Ohio for Oklahoma, unless he's obsessed with the letter "O".
Tons of Cap Space, No Players
5. New Jersey. We love that everyone says this team has great building blocks for LeBron. Didn't they just go 12-70? Yes, this Flying Lopez Brother is a nice center, whoever they take #3 (Derrick Favors?) will be a good enough player, and Devin Harris isn't garbage. But would you want to play in Newark for 2-3 years with that cast before you could really start trying to win? Didn't think so. Ranked this high simply because of the Jay-Z connection.
4. New York. The Knicks only work if they can convince LeBron and somebody else like Bosh, Boozer or Amar'e to come along. The King plus one of the front court guys plus Galinari isn't a bad troika to start with, and you know the Knicks will attract decent veterans to play in the Garden with LeBron. Still, we get the appeal of the biggest city in the world and the tabula rasa approach to building your team, but this may be too big a hurdle even for LeBron. Plus, by all accounts, Mike D'Antoni isn't getting the best press amongst players these days.
Has the Talent and Means
3. Dallas. Has the easy ability to do a sign-and-trade with Erick Dampier's and Caron Butler's expiring contracts to offer; offers a very good nucleus to walk into; has a crazy/great owner that would cater to LeBron's whims. This looks like a clear question of desire: if James wants to go here, this will happen.
2. Chicago. We're not going to rehash Simmons' arguments because he's right: LeBron with Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Kirk Heinrich and some other stiffs would be a very good team. This almost seems too easy and obvious, though, kinda like the A-Rod to Philadelphia rumors a few years ago. And we can't see him wanting to move to the city where Jordan dominated.
Where He Should Go
1. Portland. They're getting no little to no attention as a possible suitor, but we think this is the perfect match for the King. They have:
- An absolutely perfect second banana in Brandon Roy, whose outside shooting would complement LeBron perfectly;
- A good young big man in LaMarcus Aldridge;
- A good veteran big man in Marcus Camby;
- A few intriguing young players; and
- A rabid fan base and an owner that will spend money.
LeBron to the Blazers for Andre Miller, Martell Webster and...Greg Oden.
This solves a lot of problems that other deals or proposals don't solve. LeBron goes to a contender. Cleveland is obviously hurt by LeBron's loss, but gets a starting point guard, a young player and a fantastic wildcard in return, cushioning the blow somewhat. And Greg Oden gets a chance to start his career again--in Ohio, where he went to college, for crying out loud--and be closer to the Mayo Clinic to repair his busted legs.
So let's see it happen. Because this would re-tilt the balance of power to the West so dramatically, and set up some great rivalries for the rest of the decade. Pull the trigger, Portland, and LeBron, make it happen.