Coming off the best individual season of his career, LeBron James is a man in desperate need of assistance, and while most refuse to recognize it, the New Orleans Pelicans are as viable of a destination as any to provide immediate help in continuing his conquest of the Association and cementing his legacy.
Bill Russell will likely forever remain the gold standard in history books, topping all past or present NBA players with an incredible 11 championship titles. Perusing on down the list of players with the most rings, one notices Kareem Abdul-Jabber and Michael Jordan need the use of a second hand to proudly display all six of their honors, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan sport nice round numbers of five, and Shaquille O’Neal talks about his four favorite pieces of jewelry to Charles Barkley and the rest of the TNT crew probably every time they band together.
Following the reading of a who’s who roll call of 39 names comes LeBron James with three, but there are forty other guys sitting right there alongside of him. Worse, four of them — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Draymond Green — are all poised to move ahead of The King as soon as next season, and you can bet Kevin Durant has eyes on leap-frogging his idol in the not too distant future.
Well before the Golden State Warriors put the finishing touches on their third championship in four years this past Friday night, LeBron James made mention of the daunting obstacle before him.
As he was last year when falling down 3-0, LeBron James just gave a very insightful & engaging press conference. Translated in short: the Warriors are light years ahead.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) June 7, 2018
“Light years ahead” is a problem of the largest magnitude for a 33-year-old who has accumulated over 54 thousand minutes in his career (regular season and playoffs) and flat out said to post-game media after his season just ended, “It’s never a success in the postseason when you lose. Not for me.” Sounds like drastic changes are needed. Is staying with the Cleveland Cavaliers really an option?
James addressed the notion that he doesn’t have enough help after practice on Thursday, saying, “Obviously, from a talent perspective, if you’re looking at Golden State from their top five best players to our top five players, you would say they’re stacked better than us. Let’s just speak truth.”
Truth is the Cavaliers are in no position to get LeBron that fourth ring and he fully knows it. The evidence has been repeatedly hammered into his brain over the last two years. Kevin Durant joined a 73-win team while LeBron was forced to say goodbye to his Robin, Kyrie Irving, before the start of the 2017-18 campaign.
Ignoring James’ player option for next season, Cleveland is already on the hook for almost $105 million in salary and most of it belongs to a core of Kevin Love, George Hill, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Jordan Clarkson. There’s no current All-Stars within that group. Nobody remotely resembling Kyrie Irving. Yes, Love was once capable of carrying a team offensively, but he’s been relegated to a jump shooter for the last four years. His overall skillset may or may not have deteriorated, but his stronger frame and youthful energy are in the rear view mirror.
Sorry Cleveland, but LeBron James is most definitely packing up and leaving town.
Of course, for where is the remaining 64 million dollar question. According to Marc Stein who follows the direction of Stephen A. Smith, there appear to be six choices and a seventh trying to weasel in a free agency meeting.
The prominent ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith reported recently that James planned to speak to six teams in addition to the Cavaliers. Philadelphia, Houston, Miami and the Lakers were all mentioned — as were the juggernaut responsible for James’s 1-8 record in his last nine finals games (Golden State) and his longtime Eastern Conference nemesis (Boston). I’ve also been advised that the ever-persuasive San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich is bound to try to force his way into the conversation to sell James on the merits of South Texas.
Straight off the bat, are we really buying the Celtics or Warriors? LeBron isn’t about to follow in the footsteps of KD and that infamous motto of “if you can’t beat them, join them” to move to Oakland. He’s made up of a different constitution internally and understands how poorly such a meek decision would reflect on his career. As for Boston, Irving — The King’s jester — resides there along with years and years of painful moments and memories of rabid fans yelling in his ears when battling the bitter rival Celtics.
Re-uniting with Pat Riley seems like a fun thought, but once the reality of an overburdened salary cap sheet hits — that would somehow need to make room for not one but two stars — and Dwyane Wade is recognized for being nothing but a shell of his former self, the allure instantly vanishes.
The Houston Rockets are a favorite choice because they came within a game of advancing to the Finals, and they’ve got James Harden and Chris Paul. That’s a problem from a financial and a basketball standpoint though — they’ve got James Harden and Chris Paul. In order to fit three of the biggest names onto a roster — remember, LeBron has said he’s not interested in taking a Durant type of paycut — Houston is going to have to lose most if not all of their valuable role players, probably needing to say goodbye to key glue guys and the defensive backbone of P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela. That’s all before we get to the fact there’s just one basketball for three ball-dominant players. Opinions were worried about Harden and Paul sharing the rock and now LeBron gets added to the mix. Who believes The Beard and CP3 are suddenly going to develop the patience to stand on the wings for possessions at a time and morph into great catch-and-shoot guys? And defense, anyone? Anyone???
Next up, we’ve got the two young and growing darlings of the NBA: the Lakers and the 76ers. While I have little doubt James would lure at least one of Paul George, Chris Paul or DeAndre Jordan to play with him inside Staples Center and Philly boasts the best inexperienced core in the league, these two teams would not be ready to win this very minute — a necessary prerequisite for LeBron. Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and others all still need lots of reps to figure out how to win at the highest level. Surely, no ones forgotten how poorly Philly played in several games down the stretch against Boston in the 2018 postseason? Even the Heatles needed well more than a calendar year under their belts before hoisting a championship trophy in Miami.
So, in my undoubtedly biased opinion, LeBron’s choice should automatically whittle down to these two teams: San Antonio and New Orleans. Join Kawhi Leonard and Head Coach Gregg Popovich or Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis and the perfect landscape for The King’s services.
If the Spurs can convince Kawhi to stay and prove to LeBron that their small forward is happy and past all health-related issues with his leg, it’s going to be awfully hard for James to say no to Coach Pop, who is renowned for turning coal into diamonds and would suddenly have two top 5 players on his roster to play with. Moreover, Pop is one of LeBron’s all-time favorite people. It wasn’t difficult to see the love between the two of them after witnessing James react to the news of Erin Popovich’s death.
General Manager Dell Demps, however, does have selling points: two of best two-way players in the league that are ready to shoulder the load — psst, just ask Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, a roster that begs to be driven by a court visionary (Did you catch the potency of the Pelicans attack with antigravity scoring threat Rajon Rondo running the show following the loss of DeMarcus Cousins?), and a core that could continue learning how to bedevil today’s small ball lineups.
If you find a way to keep Boogie, #DoItBig grows exponentially by a factor of 100. If not, you’re still bigger than opponents, able to keep up with them in nearly all foot races and still possessing three All-NBA caliber players. And what the Pelicans possibly lose to make James a reality on the roster (Moore, Darius and Mirotic) can be mitigated in free agency. Who wouldn’t come and play for the veteran minimum in New Orleans if LeBron and AD are there?
The biggest nemesis for the Pelicans in these 2018 playoffs was Kevin Durant. He averaged 27.8 points on 50.5% shooting from the floor and 7.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists to boot in the second round matchup. Holiday and Moore, tried as they might, had no luck in slowing KD down, and on the other side, Durant’s length directly thwarted a lot of offensive attacks by the smaller yet aggressive New Orleans wings.
Enter James, who is well-suited in matching up against the 2014 Most Valuable Player. For instance, during this latest Finals episode, LeBron scored a total of 57 points on 20-32 shooting (62.5 FG%) in 126 possessions against Durant. Meanwhile, Durant finished with 33 points on 11-19 shooting (57.9 FG%) in 129 possessions against James.
So much for that long-standing disparity for New Orleans at the small forward position!
Look, reality understandably gives infinitesimally small odds of a LeBron James and Pelicans union. New Orleans has been far from a perennial championship contender. James has already purchased a house in Los Angeles and concisely stated he’s going to do what’s best for his family. However, when pondering the next postseason, one in which the Warriors would be forced to make a collective fifth straight trip — and in my opinion ripe for a dynasty run lull, I would bet on a New Orleans roster that doesn’t lose too many significant contributors and LeBron James leading prime Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.