It has now been half a year since LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s time to discuss whether leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers was a good basketball decision or not.
LeBron James shocked the world last summer when he announced his decision to sign a four-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. This league-altering move was sure to have a profound effect on both the Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the short- and long-term.
Let’s make one thing clear: James’ decision to join the Lakers was not a random one. This is something that James stewed on for a long time. This was obviously a big move for LBJ, and he most definitely put a ton of thought into it.
From a pure basketball perspective, joining the Lakers was questionable. The Lakers have a solid young core with the likes of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. While they have all shown flashes of star potential, they all have quite a bit of growing up to do.
Meanwhile, James is 34 years old and playing in his 16th season. As we all know, Father Time is undefeated. This means that the window for LeBron to carry a team to a championship is closing fast, and he doesn’t have much time to wait for a young team to develop.
Because of this, it is no wonder the Lakers have been investigated multiple times this season for tampering. James and the front office are desperate to attract an All-Star free agent this summer because they know they can’t afford to wait for their core to grow naturally. If L.A. wants a title, it needs to sign a big free agent.
The Lakers front office is frantically trying to surround James with talent and it is having some unpleasant effects on the rest of the team. Young players like Kuzma, Ingram, Ball and Hart aren’t exactly happy to know their names were in trade talks all season.
Furthermore, veteran players like Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson may have been upset they were used as sweeteners for different trade proposals. This pressure and the team’s on-court struggles eventually led to tempers boiling over in a heated exchange between multiple players and head coach Luke Walton.
Throw all of this in with an injury to James that caused him to miss 17 consecutive games and it’s no surprise that the Lakers have fallen to 28-28 and are 2.5 games out of the playoffs.
Now, the Lakers are in a really uncomfortable position. It’s clear they have no hope of winning a title this season. The constant trade talk and rumors have damaged team chemistry.
This is where I have to ask: Would LeBron James have been better off in Cleveland? The Cavaliers have obviously had a horrid season, but there are reasons to believe that things would have gone completely different had James stayed.
For example, players such as George Hill and Kyle Korver would never have been traded, and J.R. Smith would still be in the rotation. All three of these players are capable of helping a team that is looking to win now, but without James, the Cavs had no use for them.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers still have Kevin Love on the roster. Love is currently better than any player on the Lakers’ roster and should be for at least one more season. If winning a championship right now is James’ priority, then staying in Cleveland was his best bet. He would’ve had a much better chance of reaching the NBA Finals in the Eastern Conference.
However, I don’t think the Cavs could have surrounded him with enough talent to actually win a championship. They may not have even made it out of the East given how good the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics are now, especially if this alternate universe where James stayed still included Love’s current injury.
While the Lakers’ roster might not be much better, they definitely have more potential — not to mention the fact that Los Angeles is a more attractive landing spot for big free agents.
So, James was probably doomed to have a tragic 2018-19 season regardless of where he played. Maybe he would’ve had more success with teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers or Houston Rockets, but those places lack something that was crucial in James’ decision to join the Lakers.
James chose to go to Los Angeles for reasons that were more than just basketball. He realized that his chances of winning another championship were slim no matter what he did. Therefore, he wanted to join a team in a city that could provide him with the lifestyle he was looking for.
It’s no coincidence that LeBron has widely expanded his resume since joining the Lakers. He is constantly pushing out new TV projects and setting himself up to star in different movies. All of this helps support the theory that James went to L.A. for more opportunities outside of the NBA.
Even with this being true, the Lakers aren’t just a temporary landing spot for James as he pursues other careers. No, James truly believes he can eventually win a championship with this team and has committed for the long haul. L.A. still has a young core filled with potential and the ability to sign notable free agents in the summer.
While James made this decision for more than basketball, he is still putting his legacy over everything else. The Lakers have a better chance of surrounding James with All-Star talent than the Cavaliers did, and that is exactly why he made the correct choice to leave Cleveland.