There are thirty basketball teams in the NBA, which means that there are thirty teams that would very much like to sign brand-new free agent LeBron James, the consensus best single player in the entire world and two-time champion. There is not a basketball team in the country (and, presumably, at least a couple in Europe) that isn’t at least having a conversation about if they could legitimately land LeBron. Heck, there are probably a few NFL teams fantasizing about lining LeBron up at tight end.
It’s rare that a talent like LeBron’s hits the open market—in fact, the last time it happened was when LeBron himself was a free agent four years ago, a situation that led to a million “taking my talents to South Beach” jokes and four consecutive NBA Championship appearances for the Miami Heat (and the first two rings of LeBron’s career). Which means that even teams who aren’t known for chasing high-profile free agents are having discussions right now.
All of this includes the three Texas teams, of course. Even smug Spurs fans who’ve gloated over LeBron’s loss in the Finals earlier this month would change their tune faster than you can say “leg cramps” if he donned black and silver, while Rockets and Mavericks fans can presumably smell the clear path through the crowded playoffs their teams would enjoy if the world’s most famous headband-wearer took his talents to Houston or Dallas.
So let’s take a closer look at each team’s chances of landing LeBron, and why they should—or shouldn’t—pursue the possibility.
Why it could happen: Dallas is sitting on a ton of cap space right now, even after acquiring former Knicks Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton—$26.5 million in salary cap room can make any team a legitimate contender for the services of Mr. James, and the acquisition of Chandler, with whom LeBron is reportedly very close, makes the team both a place he’d presumably like to play and a place he’d have a chance to win his third championship. The Mavs were strong contenders in the 2014 playoffs—they battled the championship Spurs to a near standstill, the only team to take the champs to 7 games—and the aging face of the franchise, 36-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, has made it clear that he’d restructure his contract in a team-friendly manner if it meant LeBron might spend the next year in blue.
Why it won’t happen: LeBron has made his admiration for the Mavericks clear: he told ESPN in February that “The Mavericks are probably the reason why I am who I am today,” referring to the thumping the Heat received in the 2011 Finals in his first year with the team. But appreciation for the lessons he learned in losing to the Mavericks don’t necessarily translate to a desire to wear the uniform, and the Mavs have whiffed on landing big-name free agents in recent years far more frequently than they’ve succeeded: just ask Deron Williams and Dwight Howard. History says that Dallas struggles at attracting the sort of talent the team desires, and the team appears to be splitting its interest between LeBron and fellow superstar free agent small forward Carmelo Anthony. There are 29 other teams who’d like to land Anthony too, of course, but Mavs fans have seen this show before, and it usually ends with Nowitzki appealing to the stars on the market, and then those players signing elsewhere.
San Antonio Spurs
Why it could happen: The Spurs have a deep roster, and nothing improves an already-good team like adding the world’s best player. Coach Gregg Popovich has said nice things about James in the past, and if LeBron wants championships, there’s no better place to get them than with a perennial contender like San Antonio. James has spent much of the past four years playing a pro wrestling-style heel in public perception, and if he wants to keep an eye on his persona for the opportunities that will come up after basketball is over, the sort of image rehabilitation that would come with a few seasons with America’s sweethearts in San Antonio could be invaluable. Think about it: LeBron could come to San Antonio, repair his image, and land himself a few rings almost immediately. What’s there to lose? Few things would do more for the city’s sense of self-esteem, meanwhile, than to hear LeBron declare on a widely-televised ESPN special that he’s “taking [his] talents to the Riverwalk.”
Why it won’t happen: Okay, come on—LeBron isn’t going anywhere near the Spurs. The fanbase (which recently took out billboards mocking him for opting for free agency) isn’t interested, the team doesn’t need him, and it’s unlikely that LeBron wants to play fourth-fiddle to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili (and potentially Kawhi Leonard, who at 22 has already got almost as many Finals MVP trophies as 29-year-old LeBron). LeBron’s greatest gift is his ability to singlehandedly take over games and put a team on his back, which would make the Spurs, who play a very different style of ball, a poor fit for the things that he does best. There are 29 other teams that would give anything to have LeBron James, and while the Spurs’ management have probably had a few due dilligence-style conversations about making a run, there’s no chance those conversations have got anyone in the building thinking that this is actually in the cards.
Why it could happen: Houston’s in a position to make all the right moves to get LeBron in town—including trading center Ömer Aşık to the New Orleans Pelicans for the team’s 2015 first-round pick, which helps free up a large amount of cap space. Letting go of Jeremy Lin would help, as well, and a Rockets team that’s done some housekeeping is a Rockets team that could score any free agent on the market. Houston’s a competitive team—certainly better on paper than a LeBron-less Heat—and the team’s got a history of bringing in stars for championship runs (just ask Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley). Furthmore, part of the appeal for James when he made The Decision to go to Miami was the idea that he’d be completing a triumvirate of three of the NBA’s best players at their respective positions, when he joined Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Wade proved himself this year to be an average player at this point in his career, and Bosh was always the weakest member of the trinity—but if he came to Houston, James would suddenly complete a trio with James Harden and Dwight Howard.
Why it won’t happen: Just because every team wants LeBron doesn’t mean that every team can get LeBron, and while Houston’s perhaps a leading candidate to get him among teams that James hasn’t played for before, they’re still not as likely to pick him up as Miami is to offer him a new contract that keeps him in South Beach. Furthermore, jumping to any Texas team would be LeBron in the crowded Western Conference, where the path to the Finals is a lot bumpier than it is in the less-competitive East. The Rockets, the Mavericks, and the Spurs all compete in the same division, and that’s not a place where James can cruise to another shot at a third ring as easily as he might if he remains in the Eastern Conference. If LeBron is coming to Texas, Houston is the natural landing spot for him—but that’s still a big if.
(AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)