On June 1, 2018, the LeBron James era officially ended in Cleveland. James chose to sign a four-year, $154 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, ending a four-year Finals run with the Cavs. The move to LA was expected, as the Lakers led the betting odds to acquire James for many weeks ahead of his decision. It was clear he had shifted his focus from just basketball, and now, as a 33 year old man with 3 kids, was looking for stability in his life, hence the four-year deal. LeBron already had two homes in LA, and James’ oldest son already had his eye on Sierra Canyon, the highest ranked basketball high school in the USA.
The move to the Lakers was also about expanding his media empire, as living in Los Angeles would give him countless opportunities to work on his network, Uninterrupted, and his other various enterprises. James now has a chance to grow his businesses that will provide the foundation for the rest of his post-NBA life.
A four-year deal made so much sense for LeBron on the court as well. The deal tells Magic Johnson, President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers, that LeBron is there for the long haul. Golden State is a heavy favorite to win the championship in 2019, and after adding DeMarcus Cousins, that is not going to change. Even if Cousins, who is coming off an Achilles injury, is only 50% of what he used to be, that still makes the Warriors unbeatable. The four-year deal shows Magic that LeBron is ready to build a new culture and is not in win now mode like he was during his second stint in Cleveland.
LeBron’s one-year deals with the Cavs were like a chokehold to the necks of the front office. It forced Dan Gilbert to find a way to win right away, surrendering future assets to give James the pieces to succeed. It was almost as if he was saying, “Surround me with pieces that I can win with, or I will leave.” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said that James’ four-year deal with the Lakers was “a slap in the face to Dan Gilbert.” It showed the trust between LeBron and Magic, something LeBron never had with Gilbert. A one-year deal with the Lakers would have put Magic in an extremely tough position, in which he would have to trade up-and-coming players like Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma, for veteran players that know how to win.
The Lakers and LeBron now embark on a new journey to build a championship team from the ground up. Last year’s Lakers team won 35 games. After signing James, General Manager Rob Pelinka made a few peculiar signings. The first domino to fall was Lance Stephenson, somebody who LeBron knows all too well. The next was Javale McGee, a low basketball IQ but solid role player in spot minutes. The last signing was Rajon Rondo, who had a great season with the Pelicans. But what’s the biggest similarity in all these three player’s games? They cannot shoot the basketball.
LeBron has made it known that he loves to surround himself with three-point shooters, as it opens the lane for him and his team. The construction of this team is extremely bizarre. Reports came out that LeBron was on board with all the signings, clearly showing how James wants to play with gritty players like Rondo and Stephenson. LeBron will have to adjust his game, though, as he spent most of his years in Cleveland surrounded by specialists like Kyle Korver and Channing Frye. The Lakers will have to design a whole new system that maximizes each player’s potential.
Pelinka signed Rondo, Stephenson, McGee, and Kentavious Caldwell Pope, to one-year deals. This is in effort to save cap space for the 2019 offseason, which holds a stacked free agent class with the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, and Jimmy Butler. The Lakers are gearing up for the 2019-2020 season, when they will have a max slot open for a big name free agent. They will have no problem recruiting, with LeBron and Magic at the table, and the compelling LA lifestyle.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, it is not as easy. With the loss of LeBron, they should tank. If their pick is in the top 10, they get to draft a player. If not, it goes to the Atlanta Hawks. They need to “Trust the Process” and go full rebuild mode. The first step would be trading Kevin Love. Gilbert and Koby Altman who is the Cavs General Manager need to be on the lookout for draft picks. Develop all the youth on the roster, starting with the 8th pick Collin Sexton, Larry Nance, and Cedi Osman. Get whatever you can out of those three, and tank as far as possible to draft quality players.
The biggest problem the Cavs might encounter in this process is Dan Gilbert. He has already said the Cavs do not want to go backwards and will not look to trade Kevin Love. This could be a leverage tactic to get better offers from other teams, but the Cavs cannot let Gilbert’s pride get in the way of the rebuild. There is no point in fighting for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Gilbert needs to swallow his pride and start building towards the future.
The Lakers and the Cavs now switch places in the NBA. The Cavs are now in rebuild mode, while the Lakers begin their journey into contention for the Larry O’ Brien trophy.