The NBA Off-Season. A landscape so vast it makes the train wreck that was No Man’s Sky a children’s sandbox. Now that the “quickie” that was The NBA Finals is in the books, the rumor mill is churning once again, due in part to the looming NBA Draft and first-ever NBA Awards Show, but also thanks to LeBron’s latest haircut. Regardless of his possible intentions to evoke the spirit of MJ, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone or any other hairless HoFer, the latest Woj-Bomb (as the internet so colloquially refers) suggests that word around the league is the King will be setting up his throne in Los Angeles.
While digging a moat around the newly announced Clippers Arena in Inglewood or the Staples Center might not be the most physically demanding task for LeBron (filling it water in Southern California is another question), his potential signing in the City of Angels yields questions of “why,” and more appropriately, “how” such a maneuver would aid Cleveland’s King of the Court in his quest to dethrone the Warriors.
Given the state of the NBA and questions concerning its competitiveness, the Cavs at first glance seem to be LeBron’s path of least resistance, as far as reaching The Finals is concerned. His capabilities as a player-coach-GM are rarely in question, so scrounging up available talent to coast through the Eastern bracket of the playoffs has been (and would continue to be) an insignificant feat under LeBron’s management.
Although the Cavs average age for the 2016-17 season clocked in at a hair under 31 years, while the Warriors hovered closer to 28, thoughts that LeBron’s Cavs looked “old and slow” were not uncommon throughout the season. While LeBron shows no sign of slowing down, and his under-30 cohort of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have plenty of high level play left, the Cavs rely on slower paced basketball, most notable in their only Finals victory (Game 4) which was played at about 99.7 possessions per 48 (compared to the Games 1, 2, 4 and 5 average of 104 per 48).
Whether LeBron can assemble another squad capable of playing to its strengths to face the Warriors in 2018 is less of a question than whether he should. In the last three seasons the Cavs have only secured first place in the East once (2016) yet remain the undoubted favorites to reach The Finals (though the Hawks looked good through the first two rounds). Sloughing through the mediocrity of the East year after year is great if LeBron wants a dedicated trophy case for “Eastern Conference Champs!” apparel, though a move out West would surely rewrite the book on LeBron’s career as one who manufactures championship caliber teams.
Bron ultimately lifted the “Cleveland Curse” and has completed the mission he accepted on draft day, Thursday June 26, 2003. While pundits can – and will – argue that he could do more, jumping to Los Angeles, more specifically the Clippers would further bolster his G.O.A.T. argument.
The 20xx Playoffs
To address the elephant in the room, why would LeBron leave what is essentially a sure shot to The Finals to trudge through the densely competitive Western Conference and potentially miss out on another Eastern Conference confetti shower? Well, to rehash the idea of super heroes and super villains in the NBA, LeBron has embraced being the former following years of embracing the latter in Miami.
When ESPN’s Michelle Beadle asked Commissioner Adam Silver about parity in the NBA during half time of Game 3 of the Finals, the question quite obviously emanated from the fact that the NBA welcomed the first Finals trilogy in league history. While Silver seemed slightly taken aback, saying, “My answer [to questions about parity] is, it’s too early to declare,” the threat of many more Cavs-Warriors rematches, while historic in their own right could further call to question the motives of the NBA’s globalization, a process that is potentially more of a cash-grab than an effort in competition or honoring the spirit of the game. Coupled with LeBron’s cryptic avoidance of discussing his thoughts on Kevin Durant joining the Warriors and creating a “super team,” his move to Los Angeles would be a testament to the heroics he wants to employ to ensure a competitive future for the league.
By collaborating with the likes of Chris Paul and Deandre Jordan (I’d argue Blake Griffin isn’t part of the Clippers’ long term future) LeBron James would be making a direct assault on the Warriors base of operations: the Western Conference. Potentially dethroning the Warriors before they reach the NBA Finals would prove a feat of great significance on a team once plagued as the laughing stock of the NBA. Having announced that he has nothing left to prove after Game 3 against the Toronto Raptors in the second round of the 2017 playoffs, reconstructing the Clips as a contender during the final stages of his career would be more of a hobby project than a requisite goal for post-career solace. Under the spotlights of Los Angeles LeBron would have one of the league’s biggest stages to rewrite the book on a franchise mired by draft busts and ownership ignorance. Whether he captures his elusive 4th ring is another story, but the potential to be lauded as a champion of parity and competition league-wide could be enticing following his most recent Finals defeat.
En route to facing the Warriors in the West, LeBron’s new look Clippers could even benefit from in conference matchups in which the current Clippers fall short. Near the 2017 trade deadline reports that Doc Rivers’ Clippers were in desperate need of a small forward were far from unheard of, as Luc Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce and Matt Barnes all missed the mark on being the high volume scorer the Clippers needed to compete. Cooperating with LeBron James would prove fruitful not only for a team regularly compromised by injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but also for LeBron himself, who would team up with a pass first point guard for the first time since his days with Eric Snow during his first stint in Cleveland. (Sidenote: Sure, 2-time NBA champion Mario Chalmers was made into a pass first PG by LeBron and Friends, but Chalmers’ absence in the league in 2017 is likely a result of most squads lacking a LeBron like presence to keep the wildcard in line. I still love you though, Super Mario.)
Offensively, the plan of the Clippers with LeBron would take much of the playmaking onus off of the future Hall-of-Famer, granting them the chance to dismantle defenses while allowing for scorers like JJ Reddick and Jamal Crawford to find their rhythm without the dribble. Similarly, DeAndre Jordan would once again find himself residing in “Lob City” as both LeBron and CP3’s passing seems to improve with age.
As far as in-conference, defensive matchups are concerned, Bron’s presence at the 3 would be a strong deterrent in contests involving the likes of the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, the Rocket’s James Harden or the Spur’s Kawhi Leonard. These three, both volume free throw shooters (top 5 in the league) wouldn’t see prolonged coverage by LeBron as he ages, rather the Clips’ defensive schemes would allow for LeBron to use his basketball IQ to mitigate scoring runs and repeat trips to the charity stripe. Whereas the Warriors have 4 All-NBA talents leading the offense in scoring breakouts, teams like the Spurs and Rockets would likely see a switch of LeBron onto the hot-hand, stifling the run or at the very least requiring greater contributions from the rest of the team.
Although LeBron wouldn’t be able to exercise his player option until after the 2018 season, the potential for a gathering, at least by a fraction, of the “banana-boat” friends is an exciting thought. With Jerry West on board to advise the Clippers following a successful year in the Bay Area, his move might serve as enchantment for LeBron to visit as both commiserate over their repeated finals losses. Regardless of how outlandish LeBron in a Clippers jersey might seem, fans are probably in unison that we’ve yet to see LeBron’s final form.
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