There are all sorts of reasons why LeBron James is taking his time picking where he'll work next season. Human beings have a lot to consider when making life-altering decisions.
But in a world where everyone seems to have a theory for why James is dragging this out, Occam's razor applies best. James isn't picking his best destination, he's picking the least worst. Each viable option has complications with its roster, the kind of issues that make dragging your feet understandable.
The King comes home
LeBron will return to Cleveland
In a stunning turn of events, the best player in the world is going back to where he began his NBA career, spurning the Miami Heat despite four straight Finals appearances
The King comes home
When James was on the market four years ago, the decision was between many teams that had a lot to offer. His hometown Cavaliers posted the best regular-season record in the NBA in each of the last two seasons. The Heat promised an unprecedented union of stars with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. The Bulls had an emerging Derrick Rose and tons of young talent to grow with or flip for other established players. The Knicks promised a second star -- Chris Paul? -- to join James in basketball's mecca. The Clippers had Blake Griffin, though they also had a horrible owner and years of ineptitude. Even the Nets could promise a rebranding and an owner willing to spend whatever it took to surround James with talent.
No situation was perfect, but each had upside. Almost every alternative to Cleveland -- who, again, was both James' home and the best regular-season team in the East for two years running -- promised a union between James and other stars.
The plural is intentional. The Heat had a cap sheet so clear that James, Bosh and Wade fit seamlessly into it. The Bulls had Rose and enough room for James and either Bosh or Wade. The Knicks merely had Eddy Curry's deal and a handful of rookie contracts, leaving plenty of room for James and a second star. The Nets had similar space. The Clippers had Griffin.
That stands in stark contrast to this year, where nobody really has enough space for both James and someone else, especially if James continues to insist on a maximum contract, which is well within his rights. His final choice is between an aging core that got waxed in the Finals and a team that won 33 games in the worst Eastern Conference in years. If you put the 2014 Heat and Cavaliers on LeBron's 2010 list, they'd finish last by miles.
The stars that James so gleefully joined in Miami in 2010 are on the decline. Wade's body is betraying him and it's hard to see things getting any better from here. Miami devoted the entire season to resting him in the regular season, a move that occasionally bugged James. And yet, when James badly needed help against the Spurs buzzsaw, Wade was nowhere to be found. Bosh had a strong season, but he too is at the tail end of his prime. The load James will have to carry in Miami is only growing barring some 11th-hour Pat Riley magic.
Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, the two free agents Miami has signed, isn't that. They are fine for the prices Miami got, but they aren't going to significantly move the needle. There's still a whole roster to fill and very few mechanisms to do so. Miami's best bet is to bring much of last year's band together, but that supporting cast was old and generally unproductive last year. Why would next season be different?
King of Cleveland
King of Cleveland
And then there's Cleveland, the unofficial co-champion of 2014's Team Dysfunction award. (The Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks are the others). Cleveland has been gifted incredible draft lottery luck since losing James, but has failed to build anything close to a playoff team from it. They've passed on Jonas Valanciunas, Andre Drummond and Nerlens Noel, among others, in successive drafts to take players that have yet to make much of a dent in the league. They've fired multiple coaches, including the one James voluntarily left in 2010. And, of course, they have the same owner that did this.
Yes, they have Kyrie Irving. Yes, Andrew Wiggins has a ton of promise. Yes, David Blatt is an intriguing new coach. But there are questions with Irving's defense, playmaking and health, and Wiggins is a 19-year-old rookie that won't be a star-quality player immediately. Blatt comes in with a sterling reputation, but he's never coached in the NBA and wouldn't be the first unknown quantity to fall flat in the league's unforgiving climate. Things get more interesting if Wiggins is traded for Kevin Love, but that may also limit Cleveland's ceiling going forward and add a major defensive burden for James. There's no elite big man in the pipeline that could have differentiated Cleveland from Miami.
Phoenix, Houston and Dallas -- all teams that also wooed James -- have more going for them, but not as much as some of those 2010 suitors. Phoenix offers an aesthetically-pleasing style of play and tons of young talent, but finding enough cap space to fit James, a second star and Eric Bledsoe would've been tricky. The Rockets have the starpower there already, but has so many balls in the air to juggle -- multiple cap-clearing moves and the Chandler Parsons situation -- before really being in position to sign James. Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki, who is still playing at a high level, but he too is getting older.
It's much easier to pick the most ideal landing spot than the least problematic one.