NBA free agency technically begins on June 30 on the west coast, and on the morning of, LeBron James signing with the Los Angeles Lakers already appears to be nearly a certainty.
With every consecutive report, a possibility that was laughed at by national TV pundits all over the airwaves as recently as last year looks more and more likely, with the latest suggestion that James is the Lakers’ to lose coming on the morning before the free agent madness is set to begin:
After several conversations over past few hours, #Cavs still in mix for LeBron but the momentum clearly rolling West.— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) June 30, 2018
Soon after there was a report that James wasn’t even planning to meet with the Cavaliers at the start of free agency, which, the fact that they have been talking already aside, hardly seems like a promising sign for the Cavaliers’ candidacy to retain the franchises’ greatest player.
Those two reports come on the heels of James’ camp appearing to shoot down just about anything that made it look like he isn’t all-but-planning to join the Lakers already.
First there were the rumors from the national media that James needed Kawhi Leonard already on the Lakers’ roster if he was going to commit, rumors that were almost immediately shot down by local media, meaning the rebuttal most likely came from James’ camp.
And while that might seem like speculation or dot-connecting, a comment from Brian Windhorst of ESPN, who is as plugged in with James’ camp as anyone, implied that such rebukes are exactly what is happening (emphasis mine):
“The LeBron operation, I don’t know how else to put it, but they have basically thrown cold water and vehemently denied everything that has been out there the last couple of days,” said ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, a long-time James insider.
“They have denied that he is communicating with Kawhi Leonard. They have denied he is communicating with Kevin Durant about joining up in Los Angeles. They have denied there is a three-way conversation going on between Paul George, Kawhi and LeBron. They have denied that Kawhi being traded to the Lakers would clinch LeBron going to the Lakers.”
If that wasn’t enough, reports that the Spurs were trying to use James’ opt-in deadline against the Lakers were immediately put to rest by James opting out of his contract with the Cavaliers a morning early, severely undercutting the Spurs’ leverage in any trade talks for Leonard and keeping the Lakers from having to hemorrhage assets in order to get Leonard on their roster.
And if the Spurs can’t hold up the Rockets as a threat anymore now that an opt-in-and-trade to Houston is off the table, that leaves the Cavaliers and Lakers as seemingly the only two options, and is James really going to go back to Cleveland?
"LeBron and Dan Gilbert have just never had a relationship ... It just seems like everything stems from a disconnect at the top." - Lowe— Radio's Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) June 30, 2018
No, it wouldn’t appear likely he is, not with all of the smoke signals heading towards the Lakers. And if the Lakers seem like the only option, then it gives the Spurs far less leverage to say “Well you have to give us the farm for Kawhi because what you’re really trading for is Kawhi and LeBron.”
Could these leaks be for other reasons? Sure, but the most likely scenario is usually the correct one, and these seem deliberately targeted to make sure that the Lakers don’t empty their cupboards of help (or assets they can trade for help) in an attempt to get James in the building. Why would he do that if he wasn’t incredibly close, or already committed, to coming anyway?
Logic says he wouldn’t, and it’s not the only thing pointing towards James joining the Lakers. Las Vegas has had the team as the favorite to sign James for weeks, and virtually every plugged-in insider has acted like the Lakers are at minimum the top option for James, if not outright guaranteed to sign him, for nearly as long.
Ultimately this could all be as tin foil hat-esque as tracking flights that might be carrying LeBron to the Lakers, or deep diving into the conspiracy theories of Reddits’ comment sections. With the Lakers’ tough luck in free agency over the last couple of seasons, acting as if a superstar is signing is dangerous until the first one actually does.
Still, there are more signs than not that this is very real, and that by the end of the week LeBron James could, and likely will, be a member of the Lakers. After years of free agent futility that in and of itself is worth noting, but the need for moral victories or using this process as evidence of progress might be over, because those types of things might not be necessary anymore.
The progress that’s been promised is finally almost here, almost real, and while it might take a few more days to be publicly set in stone, #LABron looks more likely than ever.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.