LeBron James has reigned over the Eastern Conference for the past decade, but his hold over the conference could come to an end next season with the Boston Celtics set to stake their claim as the East’s new king.
That is, if James doesn’t join them.
James has the option to opt out of his current contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers at the end of the season, and based on the rag-tag group of role players the Cavs have surrounded him with, it seems more likely than not that James will be on the move this summer.
And thanks to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith claiming that the 33-year-old star will take a meeting with the Celtics in the summer, one question naturally arises: should the Celtics try to sign James if he is open to wearing the Green and White?
The short answer, of course, is yes.
While it’s a long shot that James and the Celtics will construct a marriage this offseason, it’s certainly worthwhile to break down the pros and cons (if there are any) of adding one of the greatest players in NBA history.
First off, it bears saying that the Celtics do not need James to make the NBA Finals next season. Boston will be stacked with a starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. Couple that with a talented bench unit spearheaded by Terry Rozier and it’s hard to see any team in the Eastern Conference that can take them down.
But they might need him to win the title.
Of course, signing James might feel almost immoral to the Celtics faithful. He has been their enemy, their rival, for the past 11 seasons, often putting up monumental playoff performances at TD Garden to quiet the home crowd. It might feel wrong, but it would be oh so right in the end.
Because championships make everything OK, and James certainly would bring banner 18 and more to back to Boston.
James is a generational talent. A historic behemoth that only has improved with age. The true definition of an unselfish superstar who makes the best basketball play in the name of what’s most important: winning.
He’s arguably been the most clutch player in NBA history in elimination games. In his career, James has played in 23 elimination games going 14-9 in those win-or-go-home contests. He averages a staggering 34.1 points, 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists in those games while doing it all on both ends of the floor.
Despite recent speculation, James makes everyone around him better. With the Celtics’ immense talent around him, there’s no telling what the ceiling would be for guys like Brown and Tatum when paired with James.
James also knows the opponent the Celtics potentially would face in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors, all too well. He’s battled them, beaten them and been battered by them. And there’s no reason to believe he won’t do anything to beat them.
The Celtics are built to contend with the Warriors, but they still don’t have an answer for Kevin Durant. And that’s where James comes in.
What better way is there to combat the second best player in the NBA than with the unquestioned best and one of the greatest players in history?
There isn’t one. It would be the ultimate trump card, making the Celtics and Warriors dead even across the board, and probably tipping the scales in Boston’s favor.
James is everything the Celtics need to assert themselves as the NBA’s best team right now, instead of the king in waiting. He’s clutch, unselfish, almost unstoppable and continually improving an already unrivaled skill set and basketball IQ.
But there would be one catch.
The addition of James would mean either the exit for Irving, who reportedly asked out of Cleveland last summer after being sick of playing with the star forward, or a trade of Horford or Hayward in order to fit the max contract James would require under the salary cap.
It would present an impossibly tough choice for Danny Ainge, but it’s one he has the stomach to make if need be. Keeping Irving would be paramount, as we’ve already seen what the combination of he and James can do. But if push comes to shove, the choice is clear.
The opportunity to add arguably the greatest player of all-time rarely comes around, and the Celtics should answer if it knocks this summer.
Because if they do, it means only one thing — banners.