The sports world has been in a complete frenzy these past couple of weeks post season. Leaders leaving teams, teams maximizing available cap space, and the biggest names in the NBA merging forces.
Obviously, the most prominent headlines all have to do with Lebron James joining the free agency and signing a $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. WHAT!? As soon as the news got out, the internet went wild. This might just be more dramatic than Isaiah Thomas finding out he was being traded a day after playing his heart out in Boston immediately following his sister's death.
On one side, some Laker fans are ecstatic to have a new leader...and for the record, I'm not one of them. If he could lead Cleveland to the finals 4 years in a row, certainly he can do the same with the struggling Los Angeles organization, right? Not necessarily. As much as I've applauded his performance over the years, I might just be one of the skeptics (despite how welcoming the entire franchise appears to be at this point) who don't have that much faith in James' leadership in the West nor in his ability to hold up against the competition in the Western conference. Then, there are the new fans who naturally go wherever their favorite player goes, even if it's to one of the most polarizing and hated teams in the league.
As if we haven't had a decent amount of the Lebron vs. Kobe comparisons, the endless comparisons and their pseudo rivalry just became that much more interesting. What's not being talked about enough is how lucky these new Laker boys are to have a chance that not every rookie gets to play alongside and learn from two of the greatest NBA legends of our time. However, this isn't about the Lakers, so I digress.
In my opinion, it's never a good sign for any NBA All-Star to jump ship right in the center of his prime. Once a player starts switching teams every few years, that's when his legacy starts to slowly decline. There have been quite a few once-upon-a-time iconic players, Allen Iverson, Steve Francise, even as recent as Carmelo Anthony, to name a few, whose careers began to decline after switching teams. Of course it's not always the individual's fault, but either way it goes, it's not difficult to spot a consistent pattern once a player is traded or accepts an offer on the table to go to another city, especially if they were just starting to establish a name wherever they were previously. I don't see that being the case for King James, but I didn't think it could happen to A.I. either, so it happens; it's delusional to think otherwise.
As excited or upset as people are and tend to be when things like this occur, most of us don't know the details of said contracts, such as rules and clauses, to come up with super valid predictions. I want to hope for the best, but in effort to be as objective as possible, I'm not so sure what to expect next season aside from knowing how super awkward it will be to see Lebron James in Purple and Gold; honestly, never (in a million years) thought I'd see the day.
So what does this mean for the Cleveland Cavaliers?
According to USA Today reporter, Jeff Zillgit (and I quote):
"...Cleveland is at least in better shape than they were in 2010 when he left for the Miami Heat."
...which is a statement I can easily stand behind, considering what happened then vs. what will happen next. There's a lot of young talent in Cleveland and now way more cap space as they start to eliminate their more pricier contracts, which is another great point Zillgit mentioned.
Not missing a single game of the 104 games this past season, Lebron James has pretty much been the system in Cleveland for the past 4 seasons, and perhaps, that was reason enough to expand his star power elsewhere. In addition to that, I can only imagine that $154 million in a matter of 4 years being hard to turn down when he was - essentially - the only thing holding the team together.
Frankly, it seems to be overly optimistic to picture a bright future for the Cavaliers without Lebron. Even as a lifetime Laker fan/Kobe Stan, I can admit that King James a once in a lifetime talent who has worked extremely hard to earn his tiger stripes and the right to be deemed a king. It will be a challenge in itself trying to replace him. Although life after will likely be a major adjustment for the entire franchise and new life to emerge in L.A., there's a lot of potential still left in Cleveland for them to create a new system that simply works, maybe not immediately, but eventually. It also drastically changes the landscape of the Eastern Conference and shakes things up a lot, which gives us something else to look forward to next season.
Plot twist: Kevin Love stays and now has a golden opportunity to really shine and is suddenly in an elite position to lead the team to another championship; again, not immediately, but circa 2020, which will essentially be year no. 2 of the former Cavalier's, Lebron James, time in Los Angeles.