Elise Amendola/Associated Press
For the second time in eight years, LeBron James is leaving Cleveland.
On Sunday, Klutch Sports Group announced on Twitter James’ plans to sign a four-year, $154 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers after declining his $35.6 million player option with the Cleveland Cavaliers and testing free agency. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the fourth year is a player option.
Windhorst noted that ultimately LeBron’s decision came down to just two teams:
“This was always going to be the place. It was always a two-horse race between Cleveland and Los Angeles.”
– @WindhorstESPN on LeBron’s decision https://t.co/hOluIfUTtQ
Lakers Officially Return to Relevancy
James’ decision will catapult the Lakers up the title-contending ranks.
Looking at his numbers, it’s not hard to see why. At 33 years old, James produced a sensational 2017-18 campaign in which he averaged 27.5 points, 9.1 assists and 8.6 rebounds on 54.2 percent shooting from the field, including 36.7 percent from three, in a league-high 36.9 minutes per game.
James’ postseason performance was also one for the ages.
Over the course of 22 appearances, he averaged 34.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 9.0 assists and led the Cavaliers to their fourth straight NBA Finals.
In doing so, he became the first player in league history to average at least 30 points, nine boards and nine dimes over the course of an entire postseason (minimum 15 games played).
Those are the kind of figures that can help transform the Lakers from Western Conference also-rans into one of the league’s most compelling clubs.
Beyond James, L.A. will field a core that consists of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram. Plus, it still has the financial flexibility to make another max-level splash.
That group will need time together to pose a threat to the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, to be sure. At this point, though, it possesses the blend of established talent and upside necessary to make some serious noise in due time.
Cavs Have No Easy Road for Rebuild
For the Cavaliers, James’ decision is a major gut punch.
He was the difference between annual title contention and residence in Eastern Conference purgatory, and it stands to reason his departure will send Cleveland back into rebuilding mode as the franchise deals with another changing of the guard.
Sports Illustrated @SInow
LeBron thanks Northeast Ohio on his Instagram story https://t.co/AFlgrp5HXa
Here’s the issue: The Cavaliers don’t have a surefire route to expedite a rebuild.
Kevin Love is Cleveland’s only major trade chip, assuming No. 8 overall pick Collin Sexton is off the table, and the Cavs aren’t flush with pieces to dangle in return for valuable young players or draft picks.
George Hill ($19 million), Tristan Thompson ($17.5 million), JR Smith ($14.7 million) and Jordan Clarkson ($12.5 million) are all due big money next season, and their trade values aren’t in a place where the Cavaliers can extract a significant return.
“If he leaves, that’s not a good deal for them financially,” an Eastern Conference executive told Bleacher Report’s Ken Berger prior to James’ move.
The decision could also have major financial ramifications for owner Dan Gilbert.
According to ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell, the franchise’s valuation dipped by 25 percent when James left for the Miami Heat in 2010. If that figure holds this time around, the Wine and Gold’s worth could shrink by more than $300 million.
Rovell noted that the Cavaliers made every fan with floor seats sign a deal in February locking them into their seats for the next three seasons.