So you’re (probably) going to be a free agent again. We get it. We watched J.R. Smith this postseason, too. And we wish you the best of luck in the clandestine meetings to come. But as blog boys and blog girls tasked with following the daily machinations of your next decision, we’re, let’s say, interested parties in how this all plays out. So here are a few friendly suggestions from our staff on how to make the next month-plus as painless as possible.
Don’t Make It a Production
John Gonzalez: I like a good show as much as the next guy. I’m pro-entertainment—which does not mean I’m always in favor of a big production. Sometimes simple is best. It’s probably safe to say that Decision 1.0 didn’t get the rave reviews LeBron was looking for when people responded by burning his jersey in the streets. No one has been that upset about a TV show since the final season of Lost.
Decision 2.0 was written rather than televised, but announcing his plans in Sports Illustrated instead of on ESPN felt only slightly less contrived. I’m all for showmanship, but Escape from Cleveland and Return to Cleveland lacked a certain authenticity. They were the kind of plastic, packaged strategies you get when PR consultants spend too much time interfacing with brand managers. This time LeBron should just make it easy on himself and everyone else and issue a brief statement. Or, barring that, dash off a quick tweet from vacation—preferably while on a banana boat with some buddies.
Unless he wants to announce Decision 3.0 on a super popular podcast. Then forget everything I said.
Get an (Under-the-Table) Ownership Stake
Jonathan Tjarks: When James rejoined the Cavs in 2014, the estimated value of the franchise was $515 million. Four years and four trips to the NBA Finals later, and the franchise is believed to be worth $1.35 billion. That’s almost a billion dollars of value that LeBron (and the modern NBA he helped build) created and can never touch. LeBron understands the value of ownership—that’s why he has a minority stake in Liverpool FC, and why he asks for equity when he endorses a company. The NBA would never let a player get an ownership stake while he’s still playing, but there’s nothing to prevent LeBron from making an implicit agreement with whatever franchise he signs with to join their ownership group once he retires. He just needs to go into business with an owner he can trust. Wherever LeBron signs will instantly become one of the marquee franchises in the NBA. It’s time for him to get a cut of that, even if it’s not in writing.
Do As the Locals Do
Haley O’Shaughnessy: LeBron, you’re a grown man. You’ve been here before. You don’t need my advice. But what I can recommend are things to do while you’re out meeting with teams. Yelp, but make it NBA. While in Philly, might I suggest jumping on the set of Creed II to further your acting portfolio? Meet the locals; learn to speak the language (just replace every noun with jawn). I’ve heard you’re into Los Angeles; give those 33-year-old legs a break and ride trendy scooters down Venice Beach. Or hit Kyle Kuzma’s favorite spot, Malibu restaurant Noble. When in Houston, do as the Houstonians do. (This is a strip club joke. Thank you for your time.) In Cleveland—well, I guess you know Cleveland better than I do. And it kind of seems like you’re over the city. Might as well juice a trip to the Hamptons out of it.
Think of the Content
Justin Verrier: Anyone who has covered the NBA over the past decade or so has, at one point or another, felt like the hot dog vendor shadowing Homer Simpson. James drives interest (and traffic) like few other celebrities, and there’s been an endless supply of material since his move to Miami in 2010. ESPN plopped four writers on South Beach to chronicle the Heatles, much to the chagrin of crusty newspaper types everywhere, but easily could have sent more given the daily soap opera that erupted. Four years later, he left for Cleveland, and we did it all over again.
There are plenty of basketball reasons James would leave the Cavs this summer, starting with the fact the rest of the roster is neither young nor cheap nor very good. But as he and his inner circle ponder his next move, I will make just one, simple appeal from afar: Won’t somebody please think of the content?
Despite the hand-wringing over the redundancy of another edition of Cavs-Warriors, the ratings for this year’s NBA Finals were healthy before the writing was on the wall, and likely would be again in event that this somehow turns into pentalogy. But think of the possibilities, both in the regular season and in the playoffs, should James go elsewhere. New teammates to jell with, a new coaching staff with (LeBron willing) a new system to help unlock his game, a new front office to hector, a new uniform, a new pregame introduction. All of it will be great fodder for the daily content mill. LeBron’s next revolution will be blogged.
Ask Bronny Where He’d Like to Play
Danny Chau: Watching LeBron James Jr. highlights has become one of my favorite pastimes. At 13 years old, he’s already put together a tantalizing package of pinpoint passing, perimeter-scoring ability, and poise with the ball in his hands. And he should be throwing down his first dunk any day now. Where an NBA player establishes home base isn’t a pressing issue anymore, but as Bronny gears up for high school, I’d imagine that for LeBron Sr., proximity to his son would play a factor into the calculus of his offseason decision. Los Angeles is the obvious front-runner in that regard, given that they’ve already established roots there; not to mention that Sierra Canyon has quickly risen as a basketball hotbed out in the Valley. Then again, cities like Houston and Philadelphia also boast strong programs, especially in the AAU circuit. The 2023-24 season is the objective; LeBron has consistently stated that he’d love to play against his son at the NBA level. Being able to keep close tabs on his son’s development could go a long way to that end. Doing what’s best for my family is a platitude in professional sports decision-making, but in LeBron’s case, it could very well tie into his legacy as a basketball player.
Sell Your L.A. Houses, Then Watch the World Burn
Paolo Uggetti: It is shocking to me, given that Los Angeles is a popular offseason home to many basketball players, that a not-insignificant amount of people believe LeBron will play for the Lakers because he owns some property there. If I was an NBA player, I too would also own multiple houses in L.A., no matter where I needed to play in order to win a title. (Start stitching my jersey together, Magic.) So, here’s my suggestion to James: Troll us all. When everyone expects you to zig, lean into it before zagging. Flip your L.A. houses to incite an uproar, then go back to Miami and bring Paul George with you. Imagine seeing the news story pop up in the L.A. Times real estate section, sending NBA Twitter scrambling to sign up for online newspaper subscriptions. This is how print will survive.
It’s not like LeBron hasn’t trolled us before:
'Ultimate Warrior' shirt after Finals win, now HS Fighting Irish logo before the Celtics series...Petty LeBron ftw pic.twitter.com/zS9IGlj7L6— Luke (@StereotypeLuke) May 16, 2017
And if that’s not enough of a flex, maybe pick the only other place you know as well as Cleveland and Brentwood: South Beach. At 33, LeBron is looking for a lot of things besides titles, but familiarity matters in the quest for a championship. Talent does, too. George will likely be an unrestricted free agent, and he and LeBron can finally play together in a city that’s much more appealing than Cleveland. And you never know what could happen with Kawhi Leonard, too. A new Big Three feels far-fetched; for instance, Miami’s current salary commitments mean they’d have to get very creative with sign-and-trades. But if they can work it out, going back to Miami will be a perfect way to close the loop and transition to the life for which a large number of people move to Florida: retirement.
Try to Get Cleveland to Draft Your Favorite Prospect
T.C. Kane: In 2014, the Heat traded up to draft Shabazz Napier because LeBron tweeted about him during the NCAA tournament; LeBron left anyway, because of course the undersized 24th overall pick was never going to be a factor in his decision. This year, the Cavs held on to the Nets’ first-round pick they acquired in the Kyrie Irving trade, in a sign that they’re prepared for life after LeBron. Now, as payback for the Comic Sans letter that there’s zero chance he’s forgotten about, Lebron should leverage that asset to toy with Dan Gilbert before bolting for greener pastures.
Cleveland might not bend to his will like Miami did, but it would be hilariously petty of LeBron to make it clear that the right rookie might keep him in the Land, and the wrong choice would doom the Cavs’ candidacy. “Mikal Bridges is a WINNER!!! My favorite player in the draft!” “That boy Trae Young can flat out SCORE! SHEESH!” “Man, I’d love to play with Wichita State’s Landry Shamet!” If LeBron’s Twitter account became a feed dedicated to cryptic scouting reports, it would be a watershed moment for draft enthusiasts, free agency spectators, and anyone who wants to see Cleveland suffer for burning the GOAT’s jersey a mere eight years ago.
People Will Be Upset No Matter What, So Just Do Whatever Makes You Happy
Rodger Sherman: One thing I have learned from the first decade and a half of LeBron James’s career is that no matter what he does, he will be criticized. When LeBron’s teams lost, he was criticized for not winning. When he joined a team that allowed him to win, he was criticized for taking the easy way out and betraying his hometown. Now that he has un-betrayed his hometown, he can be criticized for not being good enough to beat the greatest team in recent basketball history single-handedly, or for putting together a team too weak to beat the Warriors.
You can’t please everybody. When you’re a public figure, everything you do will be irksome to somebody. In fact, when you’re a person with the fame level of LeBron James, some people will craft their definition of “irksome” to include everything you do, whether or not they would criticize others for doing the same thing. The first two big moves of LeBron’s career seemed to be made with the critics in mind. I hope this time he realizes that they’ll never shut up, because to the people that don’t matter, he can only be a loser or somebody who has won the wrong way. This time, I hope he just does what will make him the happiest.