What was first mooted as a joke is increasingly being spoken of as an outside possibility.
With LeBron James hitting the free agent market this Summer, some have started to raise the prospect of the 14 time All-Star following Kevin Durant’s lead and making the move to Golden State. Although it’s tempting to dismiss the idea out of hand, it would be a mistake to be too contemptuous at this juncture. According to Odds Shark, LeBron to the Warriors is currently listed as +600 in Vegas, making it the fourth most-likely move for the free agent in eyes of odds-makers. Meanwhile, Chris Haynes is reporting that LeBron would “listen to offers” from Golden State, provided a max slot became available.
Not Two…Not Seven
Of course, the speculation will in all likelihood come to nothing. Such a transparent ring-chasing move would be legacy crushing – and James is a player with an acute appreciation for basketball history, and his place in it. Equally prohibitive is the fact that Golden State would struggle to create the available cap space without jettisoning two core players, likely Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala — or even Thompson and Draymond Green. That said, the move cannot be entirely discounted. If they could land James, the Warriors would probably be foolish to demure. And James has, in the past, displayed a willingness to take on the villain role in pursuit of “not two…not seven” Championships. Moreover, Kevin Durant’s increasingly bizarre heel turn two summers ago was unthinkable when Oklahoma City sat 3-1 up against the Warriors on May 24, 2016 – and we all know what happened next. It’s also noteworthy that both Shaquille O’Neal and the original Isaiah Thomas have both suggested that they’d move to Golden State were they in James’ shoes. Champions think differently.
For as long as the prospect of James taking his talents to Oakland remains at least plausible, an interesting question remains: What would it mean for the league? Such a question, it should be said, is entirely different to asking what would it might mean for the fans. We would, naturally, hate it. We would despise it. We would complain that the last vestiges of competitiveness had been stripped from the NBA, and that we would now be forced to watched an effective All-Star team win consecutive championships unopposed. The collective resentment and animosity that befell NBA fans following Durant’s move would pale in comparison to the anger that would emerge on the back of the King’s move to the Bay.
More Anger, Less Chemistry
Therein, however, lies the answer to question of what the move would mean for the Association. Not only would LeBron be making the most controversial and universally-derided move in the history of basketball, but it would likely be the most talked-about free agent move in the history of sports. Fans from outside the Bay Area would be left with no choice but to consume every Warriors game available, and passionately support the opponent. We, the fans, would hang onto, and amplify, every weakness displayed by Golden State. And we would latch on to every positive signal displayed by Boston and Houston like they were inconsequential glances from that girl you always knew was hopelessly out of your league. Even if we knew deep down that there was no hope of a competitive title race, we would talk ourselves into believing one was just on the horizon.
What’s more, there’s actually no guarantee that the acquisition of LeBron would constitute an improvement for the Warriors. The rumours suggesting that James is prepared to meet with the Warriors carry with them a significant caveat, namely that Golden State must make space for a max deal. This would involve significant restructuing of the Warriors’ roster, potentially damaging team chemistry and the on-court formula that has brough Steve Kerr’s team such a run of success. The Warriors would likely be losing an elite spot-up shooter in Thompson — and to compensate, LeBron would need more of the ball at the expense of Steph Curry. Sure, it could all come together and work beautifully. But needlessly tinkering with something that already works always involves risk.
Boom and Bust
And finally, it wouldn’t be forever. LeBron is a boom and bust player who brings franchises crashing down just as quickly as he builds them up. In time — no more than three years — it would all have blown over. The Warriors would be hollowed out (they are already the fourth oldest team in the league), and we would have lived through the reign of the greatest villain in the history of the NBA. James might, by that point, be the holder of six rings, but he wouldn’t hold a candle to Michael Jordan.
LeBron to the Warriors would be bad for the fans, bad for Boston, bad for Houston, and bad for just about every other team. But althought it would make the Eastern Conference about as appealing D2 college baseball, it would be far from fatal for the NBA. The Association would march on in much the same way it did after KD left the Thunder, only this time we would have a lot more to talk about — never a bad thing for any business.
Don’t worry, though. LeBron is staying in Cleveland.