It’s true: LeBron James agreed to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
This is every bit as monumentally Earth-shattering as it appears. There is no corner of the NBA untouched by the decision. It’s certainly the most important event since Kevin Durant joined the Warriors two years ago, even if it won’t immediately change the championship equation the way that move did.
In that spirit, here’s a wide range of 44 thoughts sparked by Sunday’s LeBron announcement.
1. The Cleveland Cavaliers lost the best player in the world in free agency — getting nothing back for him — twice. We saw how crippling this could be in 2010 when it happened the first time. Now it’s happened again, eight years later. How devastating!
2. Of course, Cleveland was fortunate enough to be adjacent to the city where LeBron was born and raised, and was fortunate enough to win the NBA Draft lottery the year LeBron entered the league, and was fortunate enough to get him back in 2014. It’s easy to forget just how fortunate Cleveland was to get LeBron in 2003 and host his unbelievable basketball ability for 11 years. The Cavaliers are in rough shape now, but they have been really, really lucky.
3. Dan Gilbert is going to be pilloried for losing LeBron twice. It’s already happening, as evidenced by Howard Beck’s reported piece. There is a segment of the fandom — both partisans in Ohio and contrarian neutrals elsewhere — who will point out that Gilbert has spent record amounts of money to add and keep talent around LeBron. That is a fair statement to make. Gilbert has indeed spent what is necessary to put a competitive roster around LeBron.
4. That said, money isn’t the only factor by which you can judge the quality of a franchise owner. And player payroll isn’t the only place where money matters. Notably, Gilbert let general manager David Griffin walk at the end of the 2016-17 season, at a critical juncture when Kyrie Irving had requested a trade and LeBron’s free agency was just a year away. LeBron liked, appreciated, and trusted Griffin. But Griffin wanted more money and security, and Gilbert does not invest in general managers. It’s one of his calling cards as a franchise owner.
5. This is not cut and dry. Dan Gilbert is not to blame for LeBron leaving Cleveland. Clearly, LeBron wanted, at some level, to be in Los Angeles. But James’ disenchantment with Gilbert is no secret and has a rational basis, and that can’t be ignored.
6. Guess who’s back in our lives?
Truly, he never left.
7. If Kyrie Irving didn’t want to spend his career playing in LeBron’s shadow, he could have just hung around Cleveland another year and got his wish. Or perhaps the Cavaliers could have refused to trade him until finding out what LeBron would do this summer, even if it meant Irving sabotaging the season (as reportedly threatened) with surgery.
8. Really, having a player like LeBron on a short deal is just weird and disorienting unlike anything else in the league. You can’t trade him, even if he doesn’t have a no-trade clause. You don’t have perfect information about your best player’s intentions, or anything close to it. So how are you supposed to make rational, forward-thinking decisions all the time? It’s got to be so hard, and the whole Kyrie saga bears that out.
9. Pour one out for Kevin Love, who is going to have an All-Star season for the Cavaliers if they don’t trade him, and will be lumped in with the lesser Cleveland players as LeBron has fun again in Los Angeles. The Heat got really weird after LeBron left due to Chris Bosh’s health issues and Dwyane Wade’s rapid decline, but Love is still fairly young and really good. We’ll hear his name plenty more times. And hey, he’s familiar with L.A. himself from college. Maybe he’ll re-join LeBron in time.
10. Will Tyronn Lue stick around Cleveland? Is it worth it to him, after the glories of 2016 and the trials of 2018, to come back and fight again? It’s going to be a miserable season because it will take at least a year, if not two, for the Cavaliers to adjust to a post-LeBron reality. The roster is in awful shape: it looks a little similar to the post-Kobe Lakers rosters, and only partly because of the presence of Jordan Clarkson. Lue took time off late last season due to health issues, and you wonder if a full year off before jumping back into the coaching ranks would be a proper move.
11. LeBron got so excited by those Cavaliers’ deadline deals, including the one bringing two Lakers back to Cleveland, and now LeBron is leaving those former Lakers to join their leftover teammates. Unbelievable.
12. The Cavaliers helped the Lakers gain the flexibility needed to sign LeBron and, potentially, another star! We knew this was possible at the time, and this was a major reason the Lakers’ move was regarded so well despite giving up Larry Nance, Jr. It’s still amazing to see that it actually happened, even if the Lakers don’t end up signing another big name player.
13. Poor Isaiah Thomas. There’s zero chance he re-ups with the Lakers this summer now, and honestly, his best option was for the Lakers to strike out on free agents and sign him to a balloon one-year deal. That can’t happen now, both because most of L.A.’s space is gone and because of how his brief partnership with LeBron went last season. What an unbelievable turn for his career.
14. If Lonzo Ball actually plays with LeBron, the dynamic with LaVar Ball is going to be extraordinary to watch. The Lakers showed only minor ability to keep LaVar quiet last season, in part by limiting where reporters could go within Staples Center. You wonder if the elder Ball will filter himself at all now that his son’s best chance of true stardom is by being a co-star to LeBron. Nothing about LaVar has suggested he has the requisite self-awareness to do that, though.
15. The on-court dynamic with Lonzo is interesting, too. Ball is a passer and defender who can’t shoot. While putting a strong passer with LeBron is new and nice, Lonzo isn’t going to have the ball much. LeBron needs supplemental playmakers, yes — that was a huge problem for the Cavaliers in the playoffs — but he really needs shooters and defenders. There isn’t a lot of shooting on the roster right now. Lonzo should be taking 1,000 catch-and-shoot threes every day this summer.
16. Lakers vs. Celtics now means LeBron vs. Kyrie. And Kyrie’s Celtics are clearly better at this point. And they might still yet get Kawhi Leonard.
17. Ah, Kawhi Leonard. What now? Can his camp convince other suitors — including the Celtics and Sixers — that he’s going to bolt to join LeBron in L.A. next summer no matter how great a season in Boston or Philadelphia goes? Does this move make Kawhi’s L.A. thirst stronger or weaker?
18. Can Gregg Popovich actually pull the trigger on a deal to strengthen the hated Lakers, even if they have the best offer? People forget that Pop was actually one of the most vociferous critics of the Lakers’ old Pau Gasol deal with the Grizzlies. He does not like that franchise at all.
19. Can the Lakers strengthen their offer for Kawhi now? With LeBron, Kawhi, and Kyle Kuzma, can’t L.A. afford to give up Brandon Ingram? Or because LeBron will handle the ball most of the time going forward, can you package Lonzo and Kuzma and keep Ingram around to learn at the feet of King James? These are fascinating questions that rely wholly on what the Spurs (or a third team) want.
20. LeBron left on a plane to Europe with his wife shortly after informing the Lakers he’d be joining them. He’s not expected back for a while. If you were a member of the Lakers organization ... you’d be a little nervous until he actually signed his contract, right? Does the NBA allow contracts to be faxed or sent overnight? Do they allow digital signatures these days? Or does it need to be a wet signature? I’m just saying ...
21. My kingdom for a recording of the conversation between Magic Johnson and LeBron when Lance Stephenson’s name came up. That is so bizarre and hilarious.
22. That said, Lance will drive at least one Warrior and Rocket crazy in the playoffs. Lance has been in the Eastern Conference his whole career — now the West stars get a taste of his oddball behavior. Of course, Lance is only a decent player when he’s a Pacer, so we’ll see.
23. Until they add another star, the Lakers aren’t even as good as the Rockets, let alone the Warriors. Golden State is so freaking good that I’m not actually that interested in seeing this Lakers team face them until LeBron has a real co-star. But it would be interesting to see how the Rockets — now without Trevor Ariza, mind you — handle LeBron and the Lakers.
25. The Eastern Conference isn’t exactly wide open, as there are clearly three superior teams. It’s just that there isn’t a boogeyman who vows to smack down any challengers looming. The East is as top-heavy as ever, and will become moreso if the Celtics or Sixers get Kawhi.
26. There is a renewed grassroots yell for abolishing conferences. It should not have taken LeBron to the Lakers for these calls to surface! Of course conferences should be abolished: the East is better in recent years, but any system that consistently pits the two best teams in the league against each other before the championship round is flawed. Whatever the case, the NBA moves slowly on these grand matters, so that’s not likely to happen during the four years LeBron has signed with the Lakers.
27. If the Lakers do get Kawhi or another co-star, yes, the West is going to be a bloodbath. Can you imagine Warriors vs. Lakers or Rockets vs. Lakers in the second round? It’s a little reminiscent of that Spurs-Clippers first-round epic a few years ago, except with superstars the general public actually likes.
28. This is great news for fans in Western Conference cities who haven’t gotten many chances to see LeBron live over the years. He’ll visit cities like Sacramento, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, and Phoenix twice a year now instead of once. It’s a small thing, but getting to see him up close will provide some more grist for his legend.
29. Of course, this assumes that every road crowd LeBron experiences in the Western Conference won’t be 75 percent Lakers fans. It will be.
30. Isn’t it kind of fascinating that there are so many Southern California-bred stars in the NBA today, and it’s the kid from northern Ohio who finally breaks the seal and chooses the Lakers in free agency? James Harden and Russell Westbrook committed long-term to Houston and Oklahoma City, respectively. Paul George decided to stay in OKC. Kawhi could break the streak, of course, but there’s something to be said about hometown status not really mattering much.
31. LeBron had drawn out his free agency in previous years, and announced his decision on July 1 this summer. That Decision Cave down on Anguilla is magical.
32. If Cousins announces his free-agent destination in the next two days (quite possible) and if the Kawhi matter is settled by then (ehh), NBA writers could truly have a relaxing and stress-free Fourth of July for the first time ... ever? Come through, Boogie and Pop!
33. The LeBron-Kobe relationship (or lack thereof) will be absolutely fascinating. Kobe has no official role within the Lakers organization, and his relationship with Magic Johnson has always been something of a mystery. But Kobe does communicate with the various reporters around the Lakers, and of course his longtime agent Rob Pelinka is the team’s GM. He has a strong relationship with franchise owner Jeanie Buss. Kobe is around, always. Is he threatened by LeBron’s gravity? Is he emboldened? Is he going to try to be helpful or butt out? Is LeBron going to be receptive to it? Did LeBron read those Kobe quotes about LeBron losing in the Finals? This is so weird!
34. Every single 10:30 p.m. ET tip on ESPN and TNT is going to star the Lakers and/or the Warriors. Book it.
35. Opening night for the NBA season could go a couple of different ways. The league did rematches of the conference finals last season. But you want the Lakers involved and need to eject the Cavaliers. Could you go Warriors vs. Lakers (forcing LeBron to watch Golden State’s ring ceremony) and Celtics vs. Rockets? Or Celtics vs. Sixers and relegate Houston to a headline spot on Day 2 against the Thunder or Pelicans (if they keep Boogie)? Can you blow Lakers vs. Celtics on opening night knowing you only have one more pairing between the teams all season?
36. LeBron’s return to Cleveland won’t be nearly as interesting (or perilous) as the 2010 edition, but it’s going to be pretty great to see the standing ovation for him. You wonder if the Cavaliers will plan something special for him, or if they are hoping he’ll eventually sign another one-year deal with Cleveland before retiring.
37. One other schedule thought: Christmas Day. I think you need Lakers vs. Celtics and Warriors vs. Rockets for this. It works better than opening night. The problem is that now you need another foil for the Sixers — perhaps the Raptors, or even the Thunder or Timberwolves. Whatever the NBA does with those five marquee teams (Boston, L.A., Golden State, Houston, and Philadelphia), it’ll be great.
38. Reports suggest that LeBron told Magic not to rush or panic in the pursuit of a second star. Does this mean LeBron is, in a way, waiting out the Warriors? Golden State’s roster is getting incredibly expensive, with Klay Thompson hitting free agency in a year. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are entering their 30s and, unlike LeBron, have major injuries in their histories. It could be the case that the Warriors are no longer invincible in two years. LeBron, having dominated the East for eight years, may prefer to build slowly and stop running into that particular brick wall in the Finals.
39. The debates about whether LeBron’s Finals streak is more impressive than other legends’ impeccable Finals records is about to get real. Assuming the Lakers do not make the Finals, LeBron partisans are going to have to reconcile their argument that losing to superior competition before the Finals is less impressive than making it through. The truth is that context matters and the Finals streak, while incredibly impressive, requires some context of the West’s superiority during much (but not all) of that run.
40. Reports suggest LeBron and Magic chatted about more than basketball late Saturday at James’ home in Brentwood. Of particular interest to LeBron was Magic’s off-court success and social capital work. This is a reminder that Magic is quite possibly the most successful American athlete ever. He’s building that legacy every day.
41. Word to Jeanie Buss, who made a brave, bold decision to shoot her brother out of a proverbial cannon and install Magic as the head of basketball operations in early 2017. It led to a court battle in which two of her brothers tried to wrest control of the franchise from her. She beat their ass in legal proceedings and took full control. And now she delivered LeBron to the fandom. She’s a damn boss.
42. It’s time for another All-Star voting reform, isn’t it? The NBA changed things to get rid of East vs. West last year, but we really can’t still pick 12 All-Stars from each conference for the pool now, can we? You’re going to have All-NBA caliber players getting left out in the West while Goran Dragic makes his glorious return to All-Star Weekend out of the East. (No offense to Goran Dragic.) Let’s just take the 28 best players through whatever voting system you cook up, and let Steph Curry and LeBron pick teams on live TV.
43. Speaking of which, if the NBA doesn’t change things, the race between Steph and LeBron for the No. 1 spot in All-Star balloting is going to be absolutely crazy, unless global Lakers devotees just overwhelm global Warriors partisans. I’m eager to see this proxy for how LeBron’s personal fandom will grow.
44. It only takes one star. The Lakers have been trying to sign huge names as free agents ever since the Pau Gasol-Andrew Bynum dynasty fell apart, and have struck out every year. But it just takes one. The Lakers finally got that star. Now everything has changed. Once you have one — especially this one — it all changes. Keep that in mind as we consider the futures of other teams.