It’s the speculation game everyone — from casual fans to NBA front office workers — will be playing for the next month: Where is LeBron James going to play next season?
To try to answer — or even rationally speculate — about that question leads directly to a second question:
What are LeBron’s priorities is choosing his new team?
“I still want to be in championship mode,” LeBron said after his team was eliminated from the NBA Finals, echoing the conventional wisdom that he wants to chase another ring. “I think I’ve shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.”
However, especially as we get older, life-changing decisions become more complicated because it’s not just our lives that are dramatically impacted.
“The one thing that I’ve always done is considered, obviously, my family,” LeBron said about his decision process. “Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn’t around as well.
“So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that. So I don’t have an answer for you right now as far as that.”
How will LeBron balance the desire to rack up rings (or at least chances at them) as he chases the ghost of Michael Jordan and his NBA legacy with what would be the best lifestyle for him and his family?
Dwyane Wade, LeBron’s good friend and one of the people who can understand the challenge of balancing those pressures, said this Sunday during an interview on Fox Sports Radio’s with Chris Mannix and Caron Butler (hat tip to the Palm Beach Post).
“To me, I don’t think it’s a basketball thing. Obviously, you saw this year he can get to the Finals no matter what the circumstances are. I don’t really think the basketball decision of saying, ‘Oh, let me go team up with three All-Stars.’ I think at this point in his life, it’s more so of a lifestyle thing of where my family is going to be the most comfortable and where I’m going to be the most happiest at. Because basketball wise, he’s so great that he can bring along and take along whoever.”
The conventional wisdom goes that if it’s about lifestyle then the Los Angeles Lakers — where he owns a home already and lives there during the offseason, and where his post-career business interests are — or staying in Cleveland become the frontrunners. (The Cavaliers are not out of this, even though it feels like a divorce is coming.)
However, even adding LeBron and Paul George (or another second superstar) to the Lakers young core likely makes them the third best team in the West, behind Golden State and Houston. As much as LeBron understandably believes in his ability to lift a team up — again, look at the roster he just dragged to the Finals — going into that deep Western Conference makes it far more likely his incredible streak of eight straight Finals appearances comes to an end. While there are good teams on the rise in the East — Boston is going to be a beast next season, for example — staying there remains an easier path to the Finals, and another potential ring.
There is no easy answer for LeBron here — life’s big decisions rarely are obvious, black-and-white decisions. There are trade-offs and challenges. Which is why it’s impossible to say with any certainty where he will land when all is said and done. LeBron has a lot of factors to balance in making his decision, and only he knows where that balance ultimately falls for him and his family.