LeBron James agrees to join the Los Angeles Lakers. He will sign for four years and $154 million, with an Early Termination Option in year four.
It's one thing to hear that it's coming, it's another to actually see it happen. LeBron is leaving Cleveland... again. That in itself changes notions and preconceptions about his legacy, fair or unfair. We live in an instant-gratification society, with information and entertainment at our fingertips. We learn and process information faster. News gets pushed through the news cycle at rapid pace, a product of both our complicated modern world and our ability to process quickly while demanding more content instantly.
The bi-product of that is simple: loyalty is harder to come by, with a complex world diluting an already complex emotion. Our complex and fast-moving world blurs the lines of loyalty, our polarizing and politicized climate can erase those lines, our morality too frequently tested to defend in every way. Perhaps a departure from Cleveland for LeBron James, as foreseen as it may have been, is only jarring because we foolishly still expect sports to be immune from all these pressures.
No longer can we hold that expectation. For the second time in his career, LeBron James is leaving home. What he's running from or towards we do not know. The four years in Miami, and his most recent four in Cleveland, seem much longer, filled with polarizing moments, incredible roster turnover and so much mainstream attention that it's impossible not to fatigue from LeBronmania. Loyalty from teams towards players disappeared under the guise of "business decisions", and that same rationale has evaporated the sentiment from the players as well.
Pushing aside the questions of his legacy, the image changes and what this means for LeBron's swerve for his career, there is some basketball to analyze here. We don't really know much about how the Lakers will look, how they'll navigate these changes and what exactly they'll do to surround LeBron with players he likes. The Western Conference is absolutely loaded right now.
The Lakers also agree to one-year contracts with Lance Stephenson ($4.4 million), JaVale McGee ($2.4 million) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($12 million).
Not the start any of us expected the Lakers to take with surrounding LeBron. Part of the reason it feels almost surreal that he's in Los Angeles: the moves that the organization have made in the wake of the quietly-announced signing are rather strange. Lance Stephenson, a long-time rival of LeBron's for his antics moreso than his abilities, joins the fray for the Room Exception. That amount, $4.4 million, is a lot for a player that is incredibly inconsistent offensively and had the lowest on-ball defensive ratings in the NBA last season.
JaVale McGee at the minimum is a great signing and allows the Lakers to get someone that could slide into either a starting or a backup center role for cheap. While that's a great signing, it is surprising to see the Lakers not want to surround LeBron with a stretch-five. Non-shooters like Stephenson, Lonzo Ball (he's not a great catch-and-shoot threat) will cramp the floor, and McGee, for as quality a signing as he is, doesn't alleviate those concerns.
Caldwell-Pope is a solid fit on the court and is one of those guys that was once so overrated that now he's underrated. Still, twelve million a year is a large chunk of the non-Bird cap room the Lakers have to flank LeBron with big-name guys. It feels like they could've chased bigger names with this budget and the appeal that playing with King James and in Los Angeles would have. Instead of trying to leverage that to their advantage, they punted and kept KCP.
The elephant in the room is Kawhi Leonard, and with space running out, the Lakers cannot wait forever to acquire him. We'll see if they can pull the trigger and get him to his desired location. It will be bizarre to watch two players that were once destined to be rivals due to their matchups in the NBA Finals team up in Los Angeles.
The San Antonio Spurs agree to two deals. Rudy Gay will stay for one-year for $10 million, and G Marco Belinelli returns to the Spurs on a two-year, $12 million deal.
The Spurs keep Spurring, moving forward with business as usual despite the constant pressures to trade Kawhi Leonard. Gay signs into their cap space, while Belinelli will join on the Mid-Level Exception. These signings should signal San Antonio's lack of desire to waive the white flag and surrender if Kawhi moves on. This isn't a team planning a rebuild.
Belinelli provides great spacing for the Spurs and Gay is that switchy combo wing they crave. The more roster spots and agreements they make before trading Kawhi, the more strange this will become and the more difficult it will be for RC Buford to navigate. I still like that move, but they have to be careful.
PG Fred VanVleet re-ups with the Toronto Raptors for two-years at $18 million
As the Wichita State product said on his Twitter account, "bet on yourself." VanVleet is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate and was fantastic for the Raptors bench last year. We'll see how he does under Nick Nurse, but he's a talented player the Raptors can grab above the cap due to maintaining his Arenas rights.
The Raptors are in a tough spot though, with $135 million in player salaries. The path is cleared to the NBA Finals now that LeBron is gone, but this is a high payroll for a team that historically hasn't desired to be in luxury tax. They're $5.4 million above the tax threshold and have 13 players under contract. This is going to be an expensive year for a team that is probably up there with Philadelphia and Boston vying for the NBA Finals.
The VanVleet signing is a necessity and gives them a great insurance policy to Kyle Lowry. Not sold on him as a starter, so this is the perfect role for him.
Aaron Gordon re-ups with Orlando for four-years and $84 million
Gordon signed a lucrative deal with what is likely the only team to bid heavily on his services. Seeing that large of a number, I wonder who the Magic were bidding against. If they just artificially put this pricetag on Gordon without firm interest elsewhere, that's not ideal.
Orlando has severe spacing issues, and Gordon doesn't help alleviate them. It appears they want to load up on wings and experiment with size and length everywhere, which is an idea in theory I don't hate. Still, they need shooting if they're going to execute it on offense.
Gordon is a player they couldn't afford to let walk away. I still believe in him and his upside. Now Orlando has twelve firm roster spots taken up, and with Gordon being a restricted free agent they can use some of the $15 million in cap space they possessed entering free agency elsewhere. They'll be careful not to utilize all of it, as doing that and adding $18.5 million of Gordon's first-season salary under the new contract would vault them right to the luxury tax. Expect Orlando to use about $10-12 million of that space on either absorbing poor contracts or chasing a point guard that fits their mold.
Rapid fire mode here with some smaller moves that took place...
Mario Hezonja to the New York Knicks on a one-year, $6.5 million deal - Hezonja's agent deserves a raise. This is the perfect landing spot, both in terms of opportunity and style. Hezonja can score, and the Knicks lack it, especially on the wings. It's a one-year deal at the MLE, but it's a great value for both sides.
Glenn Robinson to the Detroit Pistons. Two year-deal with the second year as a team option; Robinson will make $4.05 million in year one - Good grab for the Pistons. A talented wing that's forgotten a bit, Robinson adds high-upside depth on the wings. Kudos to them for getting him with a cheap team option for year two. Detroit is now $8.4 mill from the luxury tax and $14.4 from the tax apron, giving them plenty of flexibility with their remaining MLE (can use up to $4.8 million). Good start for the bargain-bin shopping Pistons.
Omri Casspi to the Memphis Grizzlies on a one-year Veteran's Minimum Deal - Always like Casspi getting the minimum, and he'll be a great stretch 4 and switchable wing for the Grizzlies. They now have 14 players under contract, the MLE and some non-guaranteed contracts they can wiggle out of. Grizzlies might not be done.
Salah Mejri stays with Dallas on a one-year Veteran's Minimum Deal - Great work here for Dallas to keep him despite their non-qualifying him with a qualifying offer. He played with Doncic before and is a good third big due to his size and solid productivity.
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).