LeBron's best avenue to NBA Finals is to remain in East

The single worst-kept secret in the NBA is that LeBron James is thinking long and hard about taking the first private jet out of Cleveland once this season ends, presumably with a loss to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

Players, coaches, executives, media and fans have been discussing LeBron’s future for months and no one enjoys that banter more than LeBron himself. He’s such a megastar that we are actually experiencing the Summer of LeBron one year before the real Summer of LeBron.

On Wednesday, several media outlets were quick to refute a report that this will be LeBron’s final season in Cleveland. Apparently, James’ relationship with Cavs ownership is “beyond repair” according to NBA writer Chris Sheridan, who also said James is “100 percent leaving.”

That doesn’t leave much wiggle room, no? The most logical landing spot for LeBron is with the Lakers. He owns a home in Los Angeles and has aspirations of growing his empire near Hollywood.

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The Lakers also have the financial flexibility to sign LeBron and another player, perhaps Paul George. If both players take discounts the Lakers could conceivably add Carmelo Anthony, who like LeBron can opt out of his contract on July 1.

I’ve been convinced since the day LeBron arrived in Cleveland that he’d finished his career elsewhere. He’s left two teams already so what is the big deal if he does it again, especially after delivering the city an NBA title?

But here’s the catch: LeBron’s best avenue to the NBA Finals is to stay in the Eastern Conference thus avoiding the Warriors until the Finals. LeBron joining the inexperienced Lakers certainly elevates Los Angeles to contending status but better than Golden State? Not yet.

LeBron turns 33 on Dec. 30 and although he remains the league’s best player his prime years are dwindling. He’s already played 41,272 regular season minutes plus 217 playoff games. By comparison, Michael Jordan, who took a 1 ½ years off to play baseball, racked up 41,011 regular season minutes and 179 career playoff games. And Jordan was 39 when he retired for good.

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The point is that LeBron at this stage of his career can’t take any chances, assuming his goal is to continue playing into June. Remaining in the Eastern Conference through the 2018-19 season gives LeBron his best option of accomplishing just that. Staying in Cleveland for two more seasons makes sense although you can never rule out a possible return to Miami.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and LeBron James

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and LeBron James

(Phil Long/AP)

Coincidentally, Kyrie Irving is under contract through the 2018-19 season. The All-Star point guard has requested a trade and the Cavs are willing to trade Irving for the right deal. But there’s also no rush.

LeBron has not commented on Kyrie’s future but he’s been vocal on more important issues. In the wake of the events Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend LeBron, who has become more outspoken on social issues the last few years, denounced President Trump and also called for healing.

“It’s about all of us looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What can we do better to help change?’ And if we can all do that and give 110 percent … then that’s all you can ask for,” LeBron said.

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That’s an interesting take for a player who in his own line of work has a tendency to be overly sensitive and has a history of lashing out when he is fairly criticized. For example, his ugly and personal attack on Charles Barkley last year.

Irving is said to be tired of playing with James even though LeBron has helped Kyrie’s legacy by getting to three straight NBA Finals. Reconciliation is not out of the question.

“The feeling is if Kyrie returns there will be drama,” says one Cavs source, “but guess what, there is always drama with the team and it doesn’t stop them from winning the East.”

That’s because LeBron is that good. And he’s also very smart. So 100 percent that he’s gone…I’d put it in the low 90s.

lebron james
cleveland cavaliers
kyrie irving

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