LeBron James‘ inner circle — the people he trusts to help him make decisions, the people privy to his thinking — is small and tight-lipped. Even when they have things in the works (say a return to Cleveland from Miami) they play their cards close to the vest and the people talking about his plans are either a level or two removed from that inner circle, or they are speculating.
I don’t know the source of the report that LeBron had narrowed his summer choices to the Cavaliers, Rockets, Lakers, or Sixers. (Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer, who had that report, is smart and well connected, he isn’t just throwing speculation out there.) Those are the four teams most discussed around the league as possible destinations, but I’d be shocked if it were LeBron and his team actually tipping their hand.
As expected, LeBron himself — in Los Angeles to take on the Clippers Friday and Lakers Sunday — shot down the idea of a list when speaking to the media at shootaround. From Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“I’ve still got too much work to do here,” James said, speaking about the Cavaliers’ season, which has 18 games left before the playoffs. “One thing about me and my career, you probably don’t know, you haven’t been around me, that I handle my business accordingly, and when that time comes, I’ll take care of that. But right now, my job right now is to get these guys prepared for the Clippers tonight and then how we can continue to get better going down the stretch….
“I understand that I’m a free agent at the end of the summer, so I understand the frenzy that comes with it,” James said. “It’s not my first rodeo, but I don’t, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t talk about it too much. Like I said, I’ll handle that whenever it comes, but it’s, I understand that the conversation happens here because, first of all, they have cap space. And this league is much better when the Lakers, the Knicks and the Celtics are all good at the same time. That’s just how it is. So that’s what also creates the frenzy.”
It’s impossible to say with any certainty what LeBron is going to do this summer because LeBron himself does not know right now.
To start with, we don’t know how good this remodeled Cavaliers roster is. Since the All-Star break, they are 4-4 with an improved but still averaged defense, and a slightly better than average offense. Cleveland will get Kevin Love back in the coming week or two, which will help. However, LeBron clearly has yet to trust these teammates in the clutch the way he trusted Kyrie Irving (LeBron was not looking to pass at the end of the Denver game), and if the Cavaliers don’t build that trust they are even more vulnerable. There are questions about the Lakers, Rockets, and Sixers as landing spots, too. (For example, does LeBron want to bet a couple of years on Joel Embiid staying healthy?)
LeBron is going to get through the playoffs, however far he and the Cavaliers get, then step back and assess the landscape. Then he makes his call. You can be sure that LeBron and his inner circle have had some conversations about fit, where’s the best spot to chase rings, and more. Whether any of that is actually leaked is a different question entirely.