LeBron James left his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, again, to fly cross-country to sunnier skies for a long-term contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. But James didn’t sign a popular two-year deal with an opt-out in Year 2, which would have given him the flexibility to leave elsewhere or re-sign at a pay raise in 2019.
Instead, he signed a four-year deal worth the $154 million maximum the Lakers could offer. That kind of deal reportedly was never on the table with Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman. And the only question left to answer is why?
He trusts Magic Johnson
Johnson took over as Lakers president of basketball operations last summer, and he claimed he would restore his team back to the prominence it held when he was running the Showtime in the ‘80s and ‘90s. That process began by landing the universe’s biggest star, but if we’ve learned anything from James’s season in Cleveland, it’s that one man can’t do it alone.
Building a juggernaut, especially in the stacked Western Conference, takes patience. And after Paul George snubbed his hometown to stay with Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers will need more patience now than ever before.
Los Angeles is the favorite to land Kawhi Leonard, whether it’s via direct trade with the San Antonio Spurs or a delayed acquisition when he becomes a free agent next summer. And the Lakers have filled the roster with mostly one-year contracts, ensuring they’ll have more than enough cap space — along with a projected $8 million increase in the salary cap — to pursue another max free agent next summer.
Some more context to the Magic-LeBron meeting Saturday night. LBJ was already strongly considering the Lakers but wanted to look Magic in the eye and see if they could find a trust before making a decision, per sources close to the situation.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 2, 2018
In other words, LeBron and Magic needed to bond and build trust. It wasn’t necessary for Magic to do a hard sell. He just had to be real & LeBron then obviously had to feel good about the partnership.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 2, 2018
The Cavaliers weren’t able to add more talent around James. When the Warriors signed Kevin Durant, Cleveland got Derrick Williams, Deron Williams and Kyle Korver and got blown out of the 2017 Finals, 4-1. When Kyrie Irving left the Cavaliers last season, the Cavs traded him, then traded all the players they got for George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., and Jordan Clarkson. James carried that team to the Finals this year, only to get swept off his own home court.
The Lakers weren’t championship contenders this season, but Magic Johnson has proven he can add star talent. Need proof? The best player in the world is on his team.
He doesn’t trust Dan Gilbert
After all, it was Gilbert who called James’s first departure a “cowardly betrayal” in an open letter to Cavs fans that blasted the team’s “former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted” back in 2010. And it was Gilbert who was unable to re-up the Cavs’ roster after the Warriors landed Kevin Durant, then fired then-GM David Griffin while he was on the phone orchestrating a Paul George trade.
If no one appreciated you Griff I did, and hopefully all the people of Cleveland! Thanks for what u did for the team for 3 yrs! We got us 1— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 20, 2017
James and Griffin never had the best relationship, even though the Cavs’ owner saddled himself in luxury tax fees year after year to pay J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson when The King decreed they get their money.
He wants to live in Los Angeles
A four-year deal is the maximum amount of time he could have signed for, so James could have taken that deal for the security. After all, he and his wife Savannah own two properties in Los Angeles, and there’s no stopping them from purchasing more if they so choose.
James’s personal brand will grow even more now that he’s in Hollywood, and Los Angeles is where most celebrities eventually move to. Maybe his reasoning for signing a four-year deal on the West Coast isn’t basketball-related at all.
Maybe LeBron James just wants to live in L.A.
One of James’s bucket list goals is to play with his son
LeBron James Jr. is 13 years old and a rising eighth grader. That means in four years, he could be graduating high school and headed to college. But what if ‘Bronny’ doesn’t want to go to college? What if he wants to create a pathway to head straight to the NBA from 12th grade?
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has already spoken at length about issues with the one-and-done rule that pumps college athletes into the professional ranks after their freshman season. The league instituted a 19-year-old age limit in 2005, one that drew criticism from players but was ultimately, reluctantly agreed to. The restriction has been in place ever since, but Silver’s recent comments have given hope to future generations of basketball players.
Is four years a long enough time for Silver to work a reversal on that ruling? One thing is for sure: He’ll still be around. Silver signed a contract extension that will keep him as commissioner at least through the 2023-24 season.
And if he does decide to reverse the NBA’s age limit, LeBron James could become a free agent and sign with whichever team drafts his son.
There are many reasons why The King may have signed a four-year deal with his new Los Angeles Lakers team, some basketball-related, some not. But the West Coast now has the biggest basketball star in the world. Whether they like it or not, it looks like he’s here to stay.