NBA free agency officially started yesterday at midnight. I want to quickly touch on a few of the signings before I get to LeBron's choice to go to the Lakers.
First off, props to Paul George for sticking it out in OKC. I, much like everyone else, was sure he was going to LA. I even wrote about it last week. But, he chose to re up with the Thunder. That was a class move, he got a ton of money, he has a player option in the final year of the deal, and the Thunder front office won the bet on themselves. I love this deal. I think the Thunder will be much better this upcoming season than they were last year. I hope they release Carmelo so they can get a better, younger fit for their team. Paul George going back to OKC was a great start to NBA free agency. I have so much more respect for him now. I love that he wants to stick it out with Russ, and I feel like this will really benefit the Thunder this year, and the next 2. They will be a good team. And for all the people hating on them for now spending money, and not giving Harden a max deal when they had the chance, stop. No one knew that Harden would become the player he has become. He stunk in the Finals in his last year in OKC, he was a sixth man and he was still so green. Yes, he is great, a MVP now, but none of us knew that 4 years ago. Chill out with the hate. Also, they are spending money now, so why throw them in the fire? The Thunder front office just can't win, but I don't think they really care.
Outside of George, the 2 other big names to move early were Deandre Jordan to the Mavericks on a one year deal and Chris Paul on a 4 year max back to the Rockets. Jordan to the Mavs doesn't really do anything for me. It will be fun to see him in the pick and roll with Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. He is also a major upgrade over any big man they had last year. But, he doesn't make the Mavs a playoff team, especially in the West. They may win 35-38 games, but they will not be in the playoffs. The Chris Paul deal was inevitable. But that is a ton of money, especially in the last year, when he will be 38, which is ancient in the NBA, but we knew it was coming. This is a deal that they are banking on contending very hard for the next 2 years, if he can stay healthy, and the Rockets retain Clint Capela, which they will. This team was one win away from the Finals, then Paul got hurt and the Warriors woke up. This is a 2 year deal stretched to 4. There were a bunch of role guys that left that do not really move the needle for me either way, but good for those guys getting paid.
Then, late yesterday, I was tracking all the Kawhi Leonard stuff. Every half hour there seemed to be a story that trade talks with the Lakers and 76ers were intensifying, then cooling down. I even read stuff that said that Kawhi wants out so bad, he is willing to sit out all of the upcoming season. I say, unless the Spurs get an offer they simply cannot refuse, I would not trade him. I would let him sit and become a free agent next year. The Spurs owe him nothing, and he owes the Spurs nothing. If he wants out so bad that he is willing to sit, if I were the Spurs, I would call his bluff. He is under contract for one more year, so the Spurs don't have to do a god damn thing. He can be a malcontent, he can be distant, he can stay home on road trips, whatever. I would one hundred percent keep him on my roster, unless I were to get an enormous deal, and just let him waste a year of his prime. That may be cold and brutal, but sports is a cold and brutal business.
The big news of the night came around 7:30pm Saint Louis time last night. I was looking at Twitter and saw a ton of NBA writers that I follow say that LeBron was joining the Lakers. Bleacher Report then reported about 5 minutes later that he was joining the Lakers. Then ESPN and every other major sports outlet reported the deal. Then the numbers came out. He officially signed a deal with the Lakers last night for 4 years at 154 million dollars, with a player option for the fourth year.
I have some thoughts about this. I will do the things I "like" about this deal. This is perfect for him building his brand. He gets to go to the biggest market in the US, he can do his acting, he can do Hollywood stuff and his sports agency can become even bigger than it already is. As far as a "brand" thing, this is the best spot for him.
Now, the stuff I don't like, and there is a ton. I hate the way it played out. I was getting stories all day that he was going to meet with the 76ers, the Nuggets, a ton of different teams. I then started to hear stories that all of those meetings were just posturing. That they held no regard as to where he was going. It was all theater, and that is one of the main reasons why I think he will never, ever be at MJ's level. He does all his business, good and bad, out in the open. He craves the media attention. I despised the way this decision played out. Then, to hear, after doing some bogus ass good bye to Cleveland on Instagram, then going out of the country, that was so stupid. Again, he is trying to be the good guy, but he didn't have to do this type of thing. He brought a title back to Cleveland. He carried that team to the Finals four straight years. No one was going to bad mouth him if he left again. But, he does this dumbass good bye thing on a social media website. Again, he was craving the media attention. He wants everyone to love him. It tends to be a bit much.
As far as a basketball team move, this makes zero sense to me, if the Lakers stay as is. I know that they signed Lance Stephenson and Javale McGee, but my response to those moves was, "why"? Those 2 moves felt like LeBron already putting his touch on "running" the franchise. He is already telling Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson the kind of players he wants to play with. But lets say it stops there. Lets say they do not get Boogie Cousins or Kawhi. How does LeBron fit next to a young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle? Not that great. In fact, the only guy I think would benefit from LeBron being on this team is Ingram. He is a quality shooter, can get to the rim if he has space and would be a great threat cutting to the basket with LeBron. As far as the other 3 guys I mentioned, not so good. Julius Randle should be pulling a Kawhi right now and demanding a trade. He gains nothing playing with LeBron. He doesn't rebound or shoot like Kevin Love, so LeBron will immediately loathe him. Kyle Kuzma is one of the more overrated young guys in the league. If he played for any other team no one would give him a second thought. He is an okay shooter, and that is it. JR Smith is so, so much better than him, and that is saying something. So is Kyle Korver for that matter. Hell, even at times, Iman Shumpert was a better fit with LeBron when he was a Cav.
What about Lonzo Ball? I am just not that high on this kid. He does have excellent court vision, but will it really matter when LeBron is stopping and pounding the ball into floor looking for his own shot? Will his court vision matter when he is counted on to hit an open three? Will his court vision matter when he over throws an outlet pass to LeBron and he freezes him out? No, no and no. LeBron will take the ball out of Ball's hand. Now, Lonzo Ball doesn't need the ball in his hands all the time, but he is a point guard, and he was running that offense last year. That all stops now with LeBron on the team. Going to his jump shot, it is pure trash. He will brick so many more than he will make that LeBron will not trust him halfway through the year, if even that long. The kid has a trash shot that never got much better over his rookie year. He has that funky delivery and he misses so many more than he makes. And, the moment he makes a bad pass, or misses a pass from LeBron, or the minute he over throws a deep pass, LeBron will ice him out. Just ask Kevin Love. The LeBron signing is doom for Lonzo.
As far as some guys still on the team, Kentavius Caldwell Pope is an overpaid lesser man's Trevor Ariza without the defensive ability, Mo Wagner and Svi Myhkaliuk are unproven rookies that need a ton of time to develop, Josh Hart is just an okay player who may or may not do well with LeBron, and I literally do not know anyone else on that team. I just do not watch the Lakers anymore.
I also feel kind of bad for Luke Walton. You'd think signing a guy like LeBron would be such a great coup, and the head coach would be thrilled. But, why don't we ask Ty Lue, David Blatt, Mike Brown and Erick Spoelstra how much they "enjoyed" coaching LeBron. Lue helped win a title for the Cavs, and this past season, LeBron left him out to dry. David Blatt got fired half a season after taking the Cavs to the title. Mike Brown was left with the burning ash of the Cavs the first time he left. And Erik Spolestra, by far the best of the bunch, was never given the credit he deserved for coaching that first super team in Miami. The moment things go a bit sour, like if the Lakers are hovering around .500 at the All Star break this season, you know LeBron will want Walton gone for someone he prefers.
When considering branding in this decision, it makes total sense. From a basketball prospective, given the current roster, it is baffling. I am not hating on LeBron. Go wherever you want. I just do not like the way he went about it, and it is clear he doesn't care about titles or going to the Finals anymore. I mean, the Rockets are still really good, the Jazz are coming, the Timberwolves, if they figure out that they have to play defense, are good, the Pelicans have Anthony Davis, oh, and the god damn Warriors are all in the West. There will be no easy nights for LeBron and the Lakers. As for Magic Johnson, he delivered. He said he would get a star, and he got the biggest one in the game. But, what he does from here will determine how good of a GM he really is. If he defers to LeBron, and lets him run the team like he did in Cleveland, it will be tough. But, if he runs the team like the Warriors are run, he gets all the credit.
This was a very exciting weekend of free agency, but I am not at all on board with LeBron. I know everyone in LA loves it, and all the bandwagon fans are coming out now. But, will they still be there when this team is beat in the first round of the playoffs? Will they still be there when they finish with 45-50 wins the next four years? Will they be there if LeBron forces his hand and they have to trade away all their young talent for vets that LeBron used to play with? I don't know. What I do know, the talk of a title coming back to the Lakers this year needs to stop. They will be lucky to be a 3 or 4 seed in the West, and they will not win, or even be in the conference finals or semi finals next year.
LeBron has made his choice, now lets see all of the other pieces start to fall in place.
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing, the other host of the X Millennial Man Podcast, and the best goddamn basketball writer on the internet. I just hope he doesn't go to his decision cave and leave for L.A.
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