Ah well. After a few years of fun speculating about how LeBron will put the seal on his already-assured legacy, he goes and makes the most disappointingly obvious choice by sidling up Staples Centre way to line out for one of the NBA’s most storied names and the least deserving of his stellar talent.
The lure of LA proved too great for the man who’s played in the NBA finals for the last eight seasons in a row.
Now a franchise that has 31 total finals appearances of their own – ten more that the next placed team – as well as 16 championship wins, a franchise that saw Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe and Shaq and countless other stars wear their golden uniforms, a franchise that essentially got every damn break going – their arena is a stone’s throw from Hollywood and packed with celebs every night when they’re winning for God’s sake! – has James on its roster and is immediately pitched among the favourites for the NBA title next season.
Some teams just have all the luck.
The team he’s joining has been on a down swing for a while. Since their last title in 2010, they’ve cycled at an asthma-afflicted Chris Froome-like pace through coaches and lineups. 2017 second overall pick Lonzo Ball became a de facto “face of the franchise” last season, a sign of their low ebb, grabbing headlines mainly because of his father’s antics off the court than because of his play on it.
With the 33-year-old James now in town, the club doesn’t have time to wait for younger players to develop and Ball’s future in the City of Angels looks anything but heavenly. Since news of the 4-year-deal dropped on Monday, the LA front office have set about restructuring their team to meet the great man’s needs.
Veteran point-guard Rajon Rondo has been brought in, along with James’ old sparring partner Lance Stephenson, and former Warrior JaVale McGee, but biggest post-LABron addition is still to be confirmed.
While James was hauling Cleveland to relevance last season, Kawhi Leonard abandoned his role as the face of San Antonio’s low-key challengers in the West. The Spurs extended their postseason run to 21 consecutive campaigns barely, but the sub-sea-level height of profile Leonard enjoys away from the court made his absence from their lineup all the more mysterious, with him reportedly unhappy due to the Texan franchise’s handling of a preseason injury and unwilling to play despite being cleared by their medical staff.
With their relationship breaking down, Leonard’s name is being consistently linked with the showiest of showbiz sides in the league, and his addition would certainly boost the Lakers’ chances of challenging a Warriors team that dropped its own blockbusting move, securing the services of DeMarcus Cousins for one season and stealing some of LA’s limelight.
From James’ perspective, setting up in Beverly Hills is a curious move purely in terms of championships, as he’s going from a team that would’ve struggled to make the playoffs without him to a team that failed to make them in the last five years. They’ve burnt through the dying embers of Steve Nash’s NBA career and tried out Dwight Howard as their star turn in that time, and spent 2015-16 indulging a Jeter-esque farewell tour for Kobe.
Are they going to waste LeBron later years too? Can the Lakers even challenge the 4/7 odds-on title favourite Warriors in the West?
It must be said that staying in Cleveland never felt likely. Though the prospect of James taking an ownership stake – with a view to eventually taking ownership of a club he has been the de facto owner of for much of the last 15 years – added a wrinkle of plausible intrigue to the Believeland fairy tale ending, this past season would’ve tried the patience of saints.
As must’ve been clear from James’ silent, simmering rage between the end of regulation and overtime in the botched game 1 finale versus the Warriors, his sustained effort and talent was being wasted in carrying his home state’s team to more Warriors defeats, or worse. The trajectory looked downward for the Cavs, with the Celtics having pushed them all the way without their two best players, and the Sixers working through the process and coming out a real team on the other side.
King James in Philadelphia was such a tantalising image. First, there’s the tradition the club as well as a prolonged championship drought that needs to end. Then, there’s the recent trauma of The Process – Philly’s devious plan to suck like a hoover in a wind tunnel to secure high draft picks – possibly ending with them signing the greatest player in the game just as Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid look to have seen them turn from deliberate losers to possible winners.
How great would it have been to see James go from the clapped-out Cavs to the most exciting young team in the league, and possibly leading them to an NBA title?
There were even cases to made for perennial basket-case the Knicks, where James would at least feel at home when the owner grabs more headlines than the team, the Spurs, who will need an injection of star power if Kawhi cannot be placated, or even the Utah Jazz, whose primary problem seems to have been Utah.
But it wasn’t to be.
Now, the fairest of fair weather fans will get to watch another mega-star of the game tear defences to shreds as they bask in the glow of the southern California sun.
It just doesn’t seem fair somehow.