After years of rumors and speculation, LeBron James finally is a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
A move this impactful will have a profound effect on the entire NBA for years to come, so let’s check out the winners and losers of James’ free-agent move from the Cleveland Cavaliers to Hollywood.
Los Angeles Lakers
This is a huge win for the Lakers after they missed the playoffs each of the past five seasons — the longest postseason appearance drought in franchise history. In fact, L.A. hadn’t missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 1975 and 1976 prior to its latest struggles. The main benefit for the Lakers is they’re relevant again, and James should be able to attract another superstar or two and help make the Purple and Gold real title contenders again.
The Celtics, who took James’ Cavs to seven games in the 2018 Eastern Conference finals despite not having their two best players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, now are the clear favorites to win the conference next season, and for the foreseeable future. The Philadelphia 76ers are the only roadblock for the C’s in the East, but the Sixers fell to an injury-ravaged Boston squad in five games in the second round last season. The pressure now is on the Celtics to reach the Finals without James in their way.
The mere sight of James in the playoffs made the Raptors crumble, as evidenced by their 2-12 postseason record against Cleveland (including two sweeps) over the past three seasons. The Raptors aren’t good enough to beat the Celtics or 76ers and win the East, but at least they don’t have to worry about getting destroyed by James during the first three rounds.
NBA’s Television Partners
ESPN/ABC, TNT, NBA TV and even local networks in major markets like Boston, L.A., Philly, Houston or the Bay Area should benefit greatly. Put any one of these teams on national TV and the ratings should be very strong. For the first time in a while, the league has contending teams in just about every major market. That’s good for ratings and the bottom line.
The league as a whole benefits now that the Celtics vs. Lakers rivalry means something again, too.
Another obvious pick. The Cavs aren’t in as bad of a spot as the last time James left. He brought them their first championship in 2016 and the roster still boasts some good players — notably Kevin Love — but they don’t have any salary cap flexibility to elite trade assets to dangle. The Cavaliers had arguably the best player in basketball history for 11 total seasons and won one title. That’s not very good, but it could have been worse. Cleveland was very close to losing four straight NBA Finals to the Warriors, but at least Cavs fans always will have the 3-1 comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals to remember fondly.
Also, is Love going to be traded now? The Cavs might as well start rebuilding, and he’s their best trade asset aside from first-round draft pick Collin Sexton.
Golden State Warriors/Houston Rockets
The Warriors and Rockets were without question the best teams in the Western Conference last season, and they both breezed to the conference finals with a combined 8-2 record over the first two rounds. But now the Lakers, who didn’t make the playoffs in 2017-18, will be a major force to be reckoned with in a conference already full of great players and contending teams. The path to the Finals in the West got a lot tougher, and the Warriors and Rockets don’t have many avenues to improve their rosters. Houston already lost Trevor Ariza in free agency, and there’s no one left on the open market who could fully replace the value he brought the Rockets last season.
The 76ers went into this summer desperate to add a superstar to their ultra-talented duo of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Well, the offseason has been brutal for Philly so far. The Sixers didn’t get Paul George or James, and San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard still wants to play for the Lakers despite the 76ers’ reported interest in acquiring him via trade. Philly has to make some kind of move to be able to beat Boston in the playoffs, whether it’s taking a risk on Leonard or trading for a lesser star like CJ McCollum.
New York Knicks
The Knicks and Lakers have mostly been bad (even very bad) over the last five seasons, but now that the Lakers have landed James — who New York has wanted for a long time — the Knicks are the only marquee franchise without a promising future. And since James signed with the Lakers for at least three years, the chances of him ever going to the Knicks seems very small at this point. What’s worse for the Knicks is Kristaps Porzingis won’t even be healthy enough to begin the upcoming campaign. It’s going to be another long, disappointing season at Madison Square Garden.
Thumbnail photo via Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports