LeBron becomes first domino
July 2, 2018
By Tony Mejia
Since NBA free agency tends to be known as the silly season, it’s no surprise that upon LeBron James’ landing in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon to begin taking free agency meetings, one betting site moved his odds of joining the Lakers to -5000.
Weeks ago, Gary Payton more than speculated that James’ oldest son, Bronny, would join highly touted prospect Cassius Stanley and the offspring of Scottie Pippen and Kenyon Martin at North L.A.-based Sierra Canyon High, leaking the story before attempting to pull it back.
Numbers available at BetDSI had James to the Lakers at -250 in addition to other futures related to NBA free agency and the ’18 draft class.
On Sunday night, LeBron ended all mystery over his future, agreeing to sign with the Lakers on a four-year deal worth $153.3 million, figures first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The first three years are guaranteed, making it the longest deal he’s signed since originally joining Miami back in 2010. He can opt out in 2021, when he’s 36 years old.
James is clearly trusting that the Lakers brand, Magic Johnson and the pull of L.A. will attract the type of help that so often passed on joining him in Cleveland, so a longer deal than a one-and-one is him buying in and becoming part of the formula.
According to the WestgateLV Superbook, the Lakers have the second-best odds to win the 2018-19 NBA title, even with the Celtics at 7-to-2 (+350), trailing only Golden State (10/11, -110).
Although LeBron declined to exercise his player option to remain with Cleveland, he could still have technically reached a deal to return there but they never had a chance. For the second time in his career, James will leave Northeast Ohio in an attempt to seek out more help. After everyone watched the Warriors sweep his Cavs despite a Herculean effort, it’s hard to be critical of James’ desire to leave for a better chance to win championships.
His team met with Philadelphia to discuss the possibility of joining Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to remain in the Eastern Conference but joining that group didn’t gain much traction. What exactly is LeBron gaining in joining a team that failed to make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference last season?
Lance Stephenson will join him. He’s as inconsistent a performer as there is, but he fights. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who plays with his hair on fire – a good and bad thing depending on the night – will also return. No one will question his toughness. If nothing else, the Lakers are building a team around him that wouldn’t get swept without a fight like the Cavs did.
Paul George was +175 to return to Oklahoma City at BetDSI on Saturday and favored at -150 to join the Lakers. The L.A. native grew up rooting for them as a team and has long stated his desire to wear purple and gold, but he spent the first minutes of July 1 at a party thrown by Russell Westbrook where he announced that he’d be staying put.
Per Wojnarowski, George is signing a four-year, $137 million deal that locks him in for three seasons while giving him the option to leave before the fourth season. He’ll be making more than he would’ve had he signed with the Lakers, but signing long-term and not taking a one-and-one was not only a vote of confidence for GM Sam Presti and the organization, but also allowed him to gain some security while setting himself up for a bigger payday when his Bird rights kick in.
Incredibly, despite most assuming that the Lakers were a shoo-in for his services, he never even met with L.A. before making his decision. Not only is this a huge victory for Oklahoma City and its gamble on a rental with the intention of winning George over, but it’s also potentially incentive for some other team to try and do the same as far as Kawhi Leonard is concerned.
Chris Paul was an even-money (+100) choice to return to Houston and has agreed to a four-year deal worth $160 million, which means he’ll earn over $85 of it after the age of 36. Although there may be diminishing returns by that point, keeping Paul from joining his great friend James makes it worth it, especially since the Rockets held a 3-2 lead on the Warriors in the Western Conference finals before he injured his hamstring and couldn’t continue, greatly aiding Golden State’s eventual comeback.
He could now wind up a primary obstacle for James, the new generation’s Isiah Thomas to LeBron’s Magic in being great friends who end up fierce rivals. With the L.A.-born James Harden, the Rockets are 7-to-1 to win it all and will remain a championship threat so long as they’re able to re-sign improving center Clint Capela.
Trevor Ariza left for Phoenix, which offered a one-year, $15 million payday, so Houston won’t have everyone back, but the fact that guys like Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute played such key roles in their first season under Mike D’Antoni bodes well for its future.
The Lakers still may be able to pry Leonard from San Antonio since his repeated insistence that he wants to wind up in L.A. is killing his market value since no one is going to give the Spurs the type of return that Leonard would normally command for a rental. Leonard becomes a free agent after the season. San Antonio would prefer to trade him outside the Western Conference but may find they have no choice.
Can L.A. expedite things by dealing young pieces like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma in addition to first-round picks? Can they make the Spurs an offer they can’t refuse and do so before the season begins so they can hit the ground running?
There are still a number of props worth taking a long look at since the chasm between Leonard and the Spurs grows wider by the day and it’s tough to imagine Gregg Popovich attempting to hang on to a star who is reluctant to be there too far past the point to turn the page. Leonard being dealt before the season in -200 at BetDSI but the odds on he and James opening the season on the same roster was at +950 as the weekend wrapped up. That would certainly be worth taking a shot at, especially with Leonard to L.A. netting +750 and James already pledged.
DeMarcus Cousins shockingly joined the Warriors in a move that immediately affected futures.
Prior to the announcement, odds on Cousins listed him at -130 to join any other team but the Pels, with a return to New Orleans at -100. A prop on he and James joining forces and opening the season on the same roster paid +1000 and now seems ironic.
With the LeBron domino now out there, the possibilities aren’t endless for L.A., but certainly filled with potential. Talk of taking a run at Orlando’s Aaron Gordon helped lead to a four-year, $82 million deal for the 22-year-old forward to stay put in Central Florida.
The NBA still revolves around the Warriors, who quickly re-signed Kevin Durant to another one-and-one contract and added Boogie, but the LeBron-led Lakers are again at the forefront. With the Celtics heavily favored to win the East, the league’s perennial powers are both formidable at the same time again, which is always a plus. They’re in a position to prevent another dynasty from continuing to grow.
Although the Western Conference is by far superior, the balance of power is such that Golden State’s path just got a lot tougher, which is great for competition’s sake. With one decision that came a lot quicker than I anticipated it would, the NBA became stronger and more entertaining than it has been the past few seasons.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA
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