The 2018 NBA finals felt eerily like déjà vu. For the fourth time in four years, it was a showdown between the Golden State Warriors, a dominating dynasty led by all-time greats like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, and LeBron James, backed by people wearing Cleveland Cavalier uniforms. Like they did twice before, the Warriors rolled over Cleveland with ease. The series, such as it was, ended with a Golden State sweep, and it had never been more clear that James was being asked to float an organization that was incapable of properly supporting him. Now, as he heads to free agency for the third time in his career, he’ll likely take his talents to an organization outside of his home state. And two of the most intriguing options for him are right here in Texas.
Betting odds place both the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs as serious contenders for James. Current odds on gambling site Bovada identify five landing spots for James with odds better than 10:1: the Cavaliers, the L.A. Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Rockets, and the Spurs. We’ll leave it to other outlets to discuss why James might want to stay in the East, where he’s played his whole career, and we’ll ignore the Lakers because, despite being the bettors’ favorite, that would put James on a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2013. Instead, we’ll focus on the Spurs and the Rockets, each of which has a strong case for why James should come to town.
Why LeBron James Should Come to Houston
It’d be hard to argue that the Rockets weren’t the best team besides Golden State in the NBA this past season—after all, they took the Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference championship, while the Eastern Conference champs were swept in four. For 33-year-old James, who, in the back half of his career, is focused on championships, playing in the West would give him an additional barrier to winning, since he’d have to overcome the Warriors just to get to the finals. But joining the Rockets and playing alongside James Harden and Chris Paul would also put him on a super-team not dissimilar to the one that dismantled the Cavs last week. That trio would be tough to beat, even if Houston had to shift around the rest of its roster to free up the cash to make James a compelling offer. If he chose Houston, he could easily end his career with another few rings. Besides, a future title with James might redeem the Rockets’ recent loss to Golden State in the conference championship for heartbroken fans.
The Rockets had to lose to get Bron. Dr Strange saw 14 million possible outcomes. This is the only way.— Beyonce has an uncle named Larry Beyince. Bruh…. (@DragonflyJonez) May 29, 2018
Why LeBron James Should Come to San Antonio
In Miami James proved that if you put him on a team with a few other all-stars, he can win titles with them. In Cleveland, he proved that he can make a team where he’s the sole superstar competitive—even if, in the end, they’re likely to fall short. But he hasn’t ever sustained success in the finals as a team’s unquestioned leader. (Yes, he led the Cavs to victory once, but they lost the series in the finals three times, most recently in ugly fashion.) San Antonio would give him a unique situation: He’d be the best player on a team where Kawhi Leonard is still reasserting himself and his health (assuming the rumors that Leonard plans to sign a multi-year extension are true), in an organization where the biggest star may ultimately be its all-time-great head coach. Going to Houston would be like forming Voltron with Harden and Paul; going to San Antonio would mean putting himself in a position to earn championships on his own terms. With aging icons like Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker as bench players and a coach like Gregg Popovich watching his minutes, James could lead without shouldering the full burden the way he has in Cleveland.
Why LeBron James Might Go Somewhere Else
While we can argue that James will end up on one of the Texas teams (although probably not the Mavs, which we have been told are still technically a professional basketball team), the betting odds favor him ending up either in Los Angeles, where he owns two homes and could recruit other free agent stars to join him, or with an Eastern Conference team like the 76ers. There are good reasons those teams are winning in the speculative markets: people close to James, like former Heat teammate Dwyane Wade, say that he’ll make his next decision based on his family rather than the shifting winds in the NBA, which could favor the Lakers. Those who expect that he’ll choose based solely on what gives him the highest likelihood of success can make a strong case for the Sixers and remaining in the East, or even for jumping to a team like the Celtics or the Knicks, where he’d have a wide-open run to the top of the conference each year with similarly strong team dynamics as he’d experience in Houston. And the idea that he’d stay in Cleveland on a one-year deal, where he could give his hometown team one more chance, collect a boatload of cash, and take stock of the NBA landscape in 2019 makes sense too. Ultimately, it’s anyone’s guess where he ends up next year, and while the Rockets—and to a lesser extent, the Spurs—are definitely in the running, basically every team in the NBA wants LeBron James in their jersey, and there are at least half a dozen that have a realistic shot of making it happen. Houston and San Antonio are among them, but let’s not get any further ahead of ourselves than that.