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Winners and Losers of LeBron’s Lakers Decision

From Kevin Love to Magic Johnson to the friggin’ NBA, here’s how LeBron’s L.A. move affects the rest of the league

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Winner: The NBA

Chris Ryan: The Lakers are one of the reasons people care about pro basketball. They have generations of fan support and generations of haters, both of which span the globe. They have a rich, title-dotted history and a legacy of star basketball players who doubled as global icons. Magic, Kareem, Shaq, Kobe. Now LeBron. No, he doesn’t need any help maintaining his icon status, but this move certainly won’t hurt it any. This is a league where something like this can happen, and that alone is what makes it so compelling.

This might be bad for Cleveland, bad for the Eastern Conference, and, if Kawhi arrives behind James, bad for competitive balance. But make no mistake: It is very, very good for the NBA’s business. One of its marquee franchises now employs the marquee player. You cannot quantify how important that is.

Losers: The Cleveland Cavaliers

Danny Chau: Cleveland needs no reminder of the apocalyptic nightmare LeBron James left behind the first time he left town. The 2009-10 Cavaliers were a 61-win powerhouse; once LeBron left, the team took a swan dive down the standings and crash-landed upon the barely merciful pavement with a 19-win atrocity of a season. It was a year in which J.J. Hickson, Ramon Sessions, and Anthony Parker were the three leading minutes-eaters; a year when fans had to acquaint themselves with Christian Eyenga, Manny Harris, and Samardo Samuels (each player started at least 10 games for the team). Kanye West dropped “Power” two weeks after the Celtics eliminated the Cavs from the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals; he dropped My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy nearly two weeks before the Cavs suffered one of their worst losses of the season, a 34-point drubbing at the hands of [snickers] Kevin Love’s Minnesota Timberwolves. No one man should have all that power, indeed.

The team will not be the same kind of cosmetic disaster this time around; they have the veneer of competency throughout their roster: an All-Star in Kevin Love, a top-10 pick in Collin Sexton (who should seriously be considered as a Rookie of the Year dark horse now), and a number of players who have either been through countless postseason wars or are young talent fresh off their first taste. Squint hard enough and you might see a team that could sneak into the playoffs. But it’s hard to see Minnesota Kevin Love walking through that door, and even if he did, most of his Wolves teams weren’t remotely close to sniffing the postseason. The Cavs, strangely, don’t have the luxury this time of starting from the absolute bottom. They’ll have to rebuild themselves from somewhere in the middle. That’s somehow a much more daunting task.

Winners: Lovers of the Lakers-Celtics Rivalry

Justin Verrier: Let’s get this out of the way: Rivalries in 2018 are bullshit. Most of today’s NBA players grew up palling around with 75 percent of the league in AAU ball. The penalties for starting something on the court are too severe. And getting punched really sucks. The only team agro enough to even push the boundaries is the Wizards, and they do enough emotional damage to each other. But James’s move to L.A. gives us the best chance at a full-blown rivalry in years. Whatever tension between him and Kyrie Irving seemed to ease as soon as they realized they shared the same enemy: Dan Gilbert. But now they’re the faces of the two most successful franchises in the league, led by two players from the glory days in Magic and Danny Ainge. If there’s any hope of ever getting a clash beyond the forced funeral games in recent years, it’s this.

Loser: Paul George

Ryan: I hope that was one hell of a Nas concert.

Loser: Competitive Balance Between Conferences

Paolo Uggetti: WIth LeBron in Hollywood, the West is the Fury Road. This isn’t exactly a case in which the rich get richer, as much as one in which the competitive gets even more competitive, or at least extremely star-studded. From a consumer standpoint, it makes the Western Conference more fun. It has all the best players in the world not named Kyrie, Giannis, or Joel, but it does diminish the pedigree in the East. By a lot:

LeBron’s departure will make the East feel more wide open, but it’s not a good sign for the conference when the most exciting story line next season might be which one of the Celtics, Sixers, or Raptors earns the chance to get beat by the Warriors, Lakers, or Rockets in the Finals. This is as good a time as any to sound the alarm on what Adam Silver should do next: Ban conferences. Or …

Winner: The Eastern Conference

Verrier: After eight straight TKOs, LeBron is moving up a weight class and leaving the rest of the bantamweights behind to figure out a champion for themselves. James has almost single-handedly disbanded several teams—the Derrick Rose Bulls, the Roy Hibbert Pacers, and maybe the Raptors—who shared the fatal flaw of running up against LeBron at his peak. Now the conference that last postseason defaulted to a Cavs team relying on steady Jeff Green production will be in search of a new king. A Celtics team that came a game shy of besting James without two of its best players has the inside track, especially if the Sixers come up empty in their star hunt. Or maybe the Raptors quietly take all of their players off the trade block and hope their current core, now led by new head coach Nick Nurse, is enough to best any non-LeBron team. If you’re in possession of more than one All-Star and play in the Eastern Conference, you’re celebrating as much as the Lakers are tonight.

Winner: Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson

Ryan: We’ve been having fun at their expense, we LOL’d at the Kentavious Caldwell–Manna-From-Heaven-Pope press conference, and the NBA dinged them for tampering with Paul George. But at the end of the day, the Lakers front office did exactly what they were hired to do: Make Los Angeles a title contender, and make them relevant. The question is, which book of the Bible does Rob break out at LeBron’s intro presser: Genesis or Revelation? Is it the beginning of something, or the end of the old way?

The collision between LeBron and his Klutch team on one side and Magic, Pelinka, and Jeanie Buss on the other will be fascinating. James made a long-ish-term commitment to the Lakers, relative to the contemporary NBA concepts of tenure. Does that mean Magic and Pelinka can build a team over the next two seasons, and maybe direct their attention toward next season’s free-agency class, which would likely include Kawhi Leonard, and, interestingly, Kevin Durant? Or will they need to mortgage the near future for the immediate present? And, for Lakers-Kremlinologists and LeBron watchers alike, who, at the end of the day, will be making those decisions?

Winner: Kevin Love

Juliet Litman: Kevin Love is free. There will be no more fit-in-not-out tweets. There will be no more tense team meetings to address where Kevin went. There will be no more Lil’ Kev. Regardless of where Love plays out the rest of his career, he is in control of his own narrative. How he plays and how the media reads his mien will be judged on his own merits. Since he arrived in Cleveland, he’s been discussed only in terms tied to LeBron. Internet writers can return to salivating over his outlet passes, and Kevin can get back to determining his own career.

Loser: The Sixers

Ryan: At least from an optics standpoint. After coach and de facto basketball ops decider Brett Brown declared that the Sixers were “star hunting” on draft night, there was an expectation that Philly might get seriously involved in the LeBron or even Paul George sweepstakes. It was even reported on Sunday that LeBron’s reps would meet with the Sixers. In retrospect, that barely seems like a leverage play by LeBron; it just feels like theater. The Sixers never met with George, lost out on LeBron, didn’t get down the road with any other free agent of consequence, and are now trying to work themselves into a Kawhi Leonard trade scenario. They face the prospect of returning their core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric, and hoping Markelle Fultz can contribute after a lost rookie season. That’s the hard part about star hunting: The fall is steep.

Loser: Dan Gilbert

Ryan: There’s a ton of speculation surrounding the Cleveland owner’s relationship with James. In the end, we don’t really know how LeBron felt about Gilbert or whether he would have played out his days with the Cavs had there been a tighter bond. What we do know is that Gilbert has lost the best player in the NBA. Twice. A pro-sports title in Cleveland is going to go a long way toward soothing this second departure, and the Cavs are going to need all the goodwill they can get. They are about to drift into the lower-middle tier of the NBA and go from the national spotlight to a curiosity for Collin Sexton fans.

Winner: The James Family

Litman: When LeBron went to Miami, Savannah James opened a juice shop. Great news, Vannah: Fresh juice is wildly popular in L.A.

Last week, Black Sports Online reported that the decision would come down to whether Bron and Vannah would want to raise their kids—especially their sons—as the biggest fish in a small Cleveland fish bowl or among the numerous celebrity kids of L.A. The report wasn’t confirmed further, but it seems they’ve made their choice. It may seem paradoxical, but by choosing the path of conspicuous existence, Bronny, Bryce, Zhuri, and their parents will have quieter days. As an added bonus, Bronny and Bryce have many options when it comes to DPs to produce their Ball Is Life mixtapes.