The explosion of interest in NBA free agency, which we here at Silver Screen and Roll are absolutely not immune to, can directly be tied back to LeBron James. “The Decision”, an hour-long special in which James announced his intentions to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami in 2010, kicked off an unending frenzy surrounding player movement and player agency, which James has continued to use to his advantage.
Now, James is being credited with popularizing a new type of free agency maneuver: choosing an NBA team based on business or personal motives.
As Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck wrote in his NBA Finals free agency missive, players around the league — including two free agents currently in the Finals — have taken note of James’ decision to seemingly prioritize family and off-the-court opportunities over basketball fit. Paul Pierce thinks players who have already won a title will be particularly drawn to this path:
But when James moved a third time, to the Lakers last summer, he chose a franchise with no proven stars, an inexperienced front office and no clear path to contention. Around the league, it was viewed more as a life choice—to be closer to his burgeoning media empire and to live in a city his family enjoyed. If he wanted to keep chasing titles, James could have gone to Philadelphia or Houston.
“Everybody sees where LeBron went to L.A.,” Pierce said. “That was more a business decision than a basketball decision: ‘That’s the place where I want to live, I’m gonna grow my brand and life after basketball.’ Especially for guys who have already been to the promised land.”
There are assuredly lifestyle reasons to want to live in Los Angeles; those factors are part of the team’s free agency pitch. Being able to live close to SpringHill Entertainment and send his kids to prominent schools in southern California are valid reasons to move to L.A., but those arguments undersell the full picture of why LeBron would choose to play for the Lakers.
From a basketball perspective, James had already won titles as part of a superteam. He brought championships to Miami and one to his title-starved hometown in Cleveland, but revitalizing a historic franchise in the midst of an unprecedented stretch of failure is a legitimate basketball challenge. Furthermore, the Lakers had an attractive combination of cap space and young players when James chose to sign. How they used those assets is an entirely different conversation, but the potential was there in July 2018.
It’s reductive to say that the Lakers have no clear path to contention based on the events of the past year that essentially played out as a worst-case scenario for a basketball season. When James made his decision, this was a promising basketball situation, despite what talking heads like Pierce may say. Los Angeles could very well be an attractive destination once again this summer depending on how free agency shakes out. If that happens, LeBron James will once again be at the center of a major NBA turning point.