Report: Lakers one of three ‘leading contenders’ to sign LeBron James

Dec 14, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) and Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball (2) shake hands after a Cavs win at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

With the Golden State Warriors winning back-to-back titles and three in four years on Friday night by sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers, the 2018 NBA offseason is officially underway.

First will be the 2018 NBA Draft on June 21, but everyone is already looking ahead to free agency at 12:01 AM Eastern Time on July 1. Elite players like Chris Paul, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and so on can hit the market as unrestricted free agents, and teams will be trying to present their best pitches to land those players. But perhaps before we see what happens with other free agents, the biggest free agent domino needs to fall. That, of course, would be LeBron James.

James carried Cleveland back to the NBA Finals with an unbelievable individual postseason performance. But the Finals served as a reminder that his current supporting cast isn’t close to helping him defeat the Warriors. James could either opt in or opt out and sign a new deal with the Cavaliers to continue his career in his home state, although that possibility appears bleak on the surface.

If James decides to leave Cleveland again, what are the viable options? According to Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck, the Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly one of three teams that could have the inside track to sign James this summer.

League sources view the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers as leading contenders, with the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat also likely to get a look.

There may be a new report out every day until James actually signs with a team that will speculate on where he is going to end up. Beck is a widely respected NBA media figure, so perhaps there could be some weight to this report.

For the Rockets, they would need to facilitate some sort of trade to land James, perhaps in a similar opt in and trade fashion that landed them Paul last summer. Otherwise, they would need to shed a massive amount of cap space to fit him in. That route would be very difficult, because it would involve offloading quality players like Eric Gordon, Clint Capela or PJ Tucker, or shedding Ryan Anderson’s final two years of his contract at over $20 million per season.

The 76ers are an interesting option, as they ascended to playoff contention this year, earning a playoff series victory over the Heat before falling to the Celtics. The future appears bright for Philadelphia, centered around their young star duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Add in James to the mix, and they become a power out East.

Then we have the Lakers, a team appearing to be on the up and up, winning nine more games than last season despite a ton of injuries. Would the young talent of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle (restricted free agent) be enough of an on-court product to sway James to Los Angeles?

James undoubtedly wants to compete for championships immediately, so maybe he would not want to wait on the continued development of the Lakers’ youngsters. But one advantage the Lakers have that other teams don’t is the cap flexibility to sign another star to come in alongside James. Theoretically, the Lakers can easily create enough space to add James and another max player such as George or Paul. That route could mean the end of Randle’s time as a Laker, although there are still ways for the Lakers to land two max players while retaining the 23-year-old. But they would have to get creative, as that would be a difficult task to make it all work financially.

There will certainly be a lot of factors for James to weigh as he makes another crucial decision for the final stages of his career. We should know in just a few weeks, but until that time, plenty of reports are going to surface. Only time will tell where James plays next season, but expect the Lakers to at least be in the mix when July 1 rolls around.

You can follow this author on Twitter @garykester

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