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LeBron James’s free agency options in a 7-minute read

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James could stay, but he’ll probably go. What makes sense, and what doesn’t? Let’s take a quick look.

2018 NBA Finals - Game Four Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

4.7 became 4-0.

After the Cavaliers fumbled away an opportunity to steal Game 1 at Oracle Arena — a wild turn of event which, if replayed, could have altered the course of history as we know it — the Golden State Warriors never looked back in the NBA Finals. The Warriors pummeled the Cavaliers in OT in that game, stiff-arming a massive 51-point effort from LeBron James. Stephen Curry hit a Finals record nine threes in Game 2, Kevin Durant went for 43 in Game 3, and Game 4 was a sad ending to a the greatest homecoming story in pro sports.

LeBron James put this Cavaliers team on his back, but in the end, it was never enough to get over the hump. It barely was against the Indiana Pacers, barely was against a battered Boston Celtics team, and wasn’t within arm’s distance of this stacked, star-studded, supreme Warriors team.

Now, he enters what could likely be the last free agency of his first-ballot Hall of Fame career. If playing all 82 regular-season games wasn’t enough, averaging 42 minutes per game in the playoffs proved even at 33 years old in his 15th season in the league, The King has a whole lot left in the tank.

The only question left is where James will drive — or fly — with the fuel he has left.

Where could LeBron James go if he leaves Cleveland?

We could spend hours on hours figuring out ways James could end up on your favorite team. But there are only a handful of realistic options that make sense for James if he chooses to leave Cleveland. Here they are, in no specific order:

Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron reportedly owns not one, but two beautiful homes out in Southern California, and if you’re the best player on the planet, you probably don’t settle and sign with the Clippers.

Out of all the teams with cap space entering the 2018 NBA free agency period, the Lakers have the clearest path to adding TWO max contract players. That means they could add James and Paul George over the summer without tinkering with much of their core.

But James and George alone probably isn’t enough to compete with the likes of the Warriors, Rockets, or the other budding Western Conference juggernauts. How about James, George, and Kawhi Leonard?

The Lakers could also turn around and trade Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng and an assortment of draft picks to the Spurs in a deal for Leonard, whose uncertain future in San Antonio puts them in an awkward scenario. Gregg Popovich could turn Ingram into the second coming of Kevin Durant. And James, George, and Leonard (plus Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma)? That’s as good a Big 3 as you’ll find in the NBA.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets are an option for James, but the numbers get murky. LeBron will command a max contract in the ballpark of $35 million annually. Houston still has to re-sign Chris Paul, then probably match a maximum contract offer on restricted free agent Clint Capela.

James could orchestrate a sign-and-trade to Houston, but the Rockets couldn’t even unload Ryan Anderson in a deal for Carmelo Anthony. You expect the Cavs to take him in a trade for the best player in the world? Not happening.

The Rockets also will pay $21.5 million combined to Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker, and you can argue Houston isn’t Houston without those players.

Plus, could Chris Paul, James Harden AND LeBron James all share one ball? Mike D’Antoni made two all-star lead guards coexist, but adding James could throw off the system that brought the Rockets one game away from to the NBA Finals.

Or, he could supercharge it.

Philadelphia 76ers

Ah yes, the mentor and the trainee. Mr. Miyagi and Danielson. LeBron James and Ben Simmons. Pairing those two players is a dream we’d only see come true in NBA 2K, and with Joel Embiid in that mix, the 76ers look as dominant as they come.

But what impact does James’s on-court presence — at times the end-all, be-all of offensive flow — have on Simmons’s growth and development? Adding James to the mix only takes the ball out of the presumptive Rookie of the Year’s hands.

Forget about now. Is that what 76ers fans want, years down the line?

Golden State Warriors

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? That’s what Kevin Durant did two summers ago, and if LeBron James wanted to follow suit ...

... well, it’s probably not happening

The Warriors have $129 million in salary guaranteed for next season, and odds are that number increases if they sign Durant to a maximum contract extension. That means LeBron has to take a pay cut, AND the Warriors probably have to get rid of either Draymond Green or Klay Thompson.

Nah. Next.

Boston Celtics

Conspiracy theory time: What if Kyrie Irving and LeBron James assessed the team and realized they needed more to truly beat these Kevin Durant Warriors? And what if that more was Boston’s supporting cast, and Irving forcing a trade to Boston merely paved the way for James to follow the summer after?

Sure, I saw that on the Twitter timeline somewhere, but wouldn’t that be the biggest plot twist we’ve ever seen? The Cavs get Gordon Hayward and picks, and the Celtics trot out Irving, James, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford. That’s a squad in my book.

Hey, a man can dream, right?

San Antonio Spurs

LeBron James has never played for a legendary head coach. Insert Gregg Popovich, the most legendary head coach of them all. The Spurs were an injury away from contending with the Warriors last season, and a healthy Kawhi Leonard plus a dominant LeBron James makes for one serious Spurs team that can compete with anyone out West.

In comparison to Los Angeles, San Antonio may as well be Albuquerque. But sometimes you have to do something you’ve never done in order to accomplish something you’ve never accomplished. If James wants to go out West and still compete for a championship, the Spurs have to be an option.

New York Knicks

LeBron James is so enamored by the unicorn that is Kristaps Porzingis that he wants to head to Madison Square Garden and spend the rest of his playing days in New York.

It sounds too good to be true. That’s because it is.

He could also stay in Cleveland

Home is where the heart is, and if anything is certain, it’s LeBron’s commitment to the community that raised him. But the Cavaliers can’t improve in free agency, and their best trade chip is Brooklyn’s No. 8 pick in this year’s draft.

You’ve assessed the best options, and you know Cleveland’s roster. If you’re in LeBron James’s shoes, are you staying home?