Whatever decision LeBron James makes in July as a free agent will be based on two simple questions:
Can he contend immediately and win another ring there?
How much does it help his brand?
Sure family and lifestyle will not be ignored, but those two questions will decide the outcome.
Which is why the rumor that LeBron James would consider going to the Clippers this summer — especially a Clippers team now without Blake Griffin and possibly without free agent to be DeAndre Jordan — never made sense. I had written (and said on radio interviews) multiple times in the last 48 hours I had heard from league sources (ones not directly tied to LeBron or the Clippers) that the Clippers were not in play. Mark Spears of the Undefeated at ESPN got confirmation from both people close to LeBron and the Clippers this is not happening.
As of now, James is not expected to consider the Clippers as a free agent, a source close to him said. A source close to the Clippers said they also don’t expect James to consider them in free agency. But the Clippers have to make the call.
Of course, they make the call. Every team should make the call (except maybe the Warriors). That’s the game.
The Clippers are not a good answer to either of the two fundamental questions. First, the Clippers’ pitch to LeBron would be that he could play in L.A. for a year with Tobias Harris and Austin Rivers and whoever they draft, then in the summer of 2019 the Clippers will have the cap space to go get a big free agent in a deep class (Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and others). LeBron is not going to wait a year — he will be 33 and have just finished his 15th NBA season when free agency rolls around, he can’t waste a year waiting for a plan to come together.
As for his brand, do you really see LeBron going to the second team in the market? Los Angeles is a Lakers’ town, and while Steve Ballmer works hard to get his Clippers out of that massive shadow, LeBron isn’t going to step into the Los Angeles market in Clippers colors. That does not boost his brand.
LeBron will survey the landscape after the playoffs, judging both how he and the Cavaliers have done, and how other teams around the league are shaping up, and make his call. Maybe he goes to Houston, maybe he clicks his ruby-red slippers together and says “there’s no place like home,” maybe a lot of things. However, some things are more probable than others, and the Clippers are near the “very low odds” end of the spectrum.