We are live-blogging LeBron James’s decision to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers as the news unfolds on Sunday evening.
The Lakers Actually Did It
Paolo Uggetti: The LeBron James circus, and all that comes with it, is headed to Hollywood. The former Cleveland Cavalier has agreed to sign a four-year, $154 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, according to a Klutch Sports press release, on the first full day of free agency.
The deal reportedly has an opt-out after the third season, but the structure of the deal is surprising nonetheless—it’s the longest he’s agreed to since 2010. For the past three seasons with the Cavs, LeBron has worked only in two-year deals with player options after the first year, which allowed him to make the most money while also maintaining flexibility for his future. A four-year deal is telling. He wants to be in Los Angeles for the long run.
The move was telegraphed as far back as last season. The signs were there (the Brentwood houses, his son’s early basketball success), and yet, there was always the question: Would LeBron actually leave Cleveland again? In retrospect, there was no better option for his future. Los Angeles provided LeBron with not only a familiar landscape, but also a bevy of cap space for a second star. It’s also a team that boasts a young roster with plenty of assets to trade for a third star if need be. LeBron’s arrival is only the first domino; there is a lot more the Lakers have to do, but at least now, they have a clear objective: Surround the best player in the world with enough talent to take down the Warriors dynasty.
This Was the Anti-Decision
Chris Ryan: The Biggest Announcement of the NBA offseason did not even warrant a blue checkmark. It came via the at-the-time unverified Twitter account of Klutch Sports, the agency representing LeBron run by his longtime friend and associate Rich Paul.
As Danny Chau mentioned earlier, this was the polar opposite of the bungled, career-altering Decision broadcast in 2010, and it was an interesting pivot from the image-rehab of the Sports Illustrated homecoming announcement in 2014. No Boys and Girls Club, no Lee Jenkins. One title and four trips to the Finals later, LeBron went west with a whisper. There were reports that he didn’t want to make a big deal out of his free agency this time around, and that was proved by the manner in which he declared his new home.
Kawhi Still Wants to Wear Purple and Gold
Justin Verrier: LeBron James is taking his talents to Zuma Beach, and he’s bringing … no one with him. (For now.) The great, big assumption looming over the Lakers’ pursuit of the best player in basketball was that they would need to land a friend to play with him. They kicked down the door the Spurs shut on them last week bearing all sorts of myrrh and young assets in order to lay a path for Kawhi Leonard to land with his team of choice. They paid a $500,000 fine last year for one televised wink at Paul George. And they made inquiries on both Clint Capela and DeMarcus Cousins, per reports. But once James officially signs his new contract with the Lakers, he’ll find a depth chart with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a pair of former no. 2 overall picks, a couple of kids with Twitter fingers, and Luol Deng, but no other superstar. Unlike when he joined the Heat and rejoined the Cavs, he is the first domino, not the second or the third.
George is no longer an option, and Clint Capela’s frowny emoji in the wake of the Klutch Sports fax presumably means he’s out, too. But Kawhi has always been the prize, and he remains a bigger priority now if James intends on competing ASAP. (He’ll surely make a statement saying he’s in L.A. for the long haul, but it’s hard to believe he’d take a year off from title contention just to watch his son play high school ball and to ride the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier.) The leverage dance to come should be Billions-worthy. On the one hand, the Lakers already have LeBron in hand, and while they struck out playing hardball with George, they could try the same tactic again and assume Leonard will make it to them by next summer no matter what. On the other hand, just before James’s announcement, the San Antonio Express-News’ Jabari Young reported that Leonard would be willing to sign with the Sixers long term should they deal for him. And while that could ultimately be a sign from Kawhi’s camp to Magic Johnson to come get your man, Philly also has run low on options to fill the superstar-sized hole that it carved out in its roster for this very moment. LeBron made his decision as quietly as possible, but the effects will echo throughout the league from here on out.
A City of Stars Fit for a King
Juliet Litman: The NBA is amid a sea change. The biggest, most reliable stars of a generation are at the end of their prime, and the likelihood of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, or Giannis Antetokounmpo individually or collectively matching the star wattage of someone like LeBron James has been questionable at best. I’ve feared the void an aging LeBron would leave behind, but his move to L.A. defers, if not obviates, any concern. Even if he has to fight the legacies of Kobe, Shaq, Magic, Wilt, and Kareem, LeBron has the opportunity to redefine further what it means to be an athlete turned multi-hyphenate in the world of entertainment.
Magic is a relatively quiet mogul, Kobe has an Oscar, and Michael Jordan changed the sportswear industry. LeBron can dabble in all of those areas, get existing projects accelerated, and become an even more public national figure. Los Angeles is a city where ambitious and aspirational people go to cultivate a brand. He comes to the city as a singular player with intriguing side projects, and I have little doubt he’ll retire or leave as an industrious athlete-producer-entrepreneur-activist like sports hasn’t seen before.