All 30 NBA teams will be awaiting “The Decision 3.0.’’
The 15 in the Eastern Conference will likely be holding their breath.
Once free agency begins July 1, the will-he-or-won’t-he surrounding LeBron James will become must-see TV — a daily drama the three other major sports only wish they could promote.
And what if? What if James, the four-time NBA MVP, jumps from the Cavaliers to the Western Conference to join the Rockets or Lakers? It wouldn’t just mark an immediate shift in power for the new team, but also would completely change the landscape of the East, which James has controlled for most of the last decade with the Cavs and Heat.
Here are the Eastern Conference teams best poised to take over the next three seasons if James leaves:
Injured All-Star forward Gordon Hayward gave his new team just five minutes of basketball before breaking his left ankle in the season opener — one of the more gruesome injuries of the year. But maybe, just maybe, it was a huge blessing in disguise. It cleared the way for young wings Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to grow up quickly. No team in the conference has as much wealth at forward as the Celtics do.
Yes, he’s overrated, but a healthy Kyrie Irving also gives the Celtics a go-to scorer down the stretch, and their depth across the board is unmatched in the East.
Now the kicker: General manager Danny Ainge still has draft-pick assets, including the Kings’ 2019 first-rounder (which is protected if it’s No. 1 overall).
If team president Bryan Colangelo was indeed involved in taking shots at his own players using anonymous Twitter accounts, it could spiral this franchise right out of this No. 2 spot.
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have star power but obviously need help through free agency. That could be jeopardized by the Colangelo situation. If this all blows over, or if the team moves on without Colangelo, expect Philly to be a destination.
Don’t sleep on No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, who could have a turnaround summer. The 76ers also have the 10th overall pick in the draft in June.
Yes, guard Victor Oladipo has finally achieved All-Star status, but that’s not what makes the Pacers a dangerous team. It’s their payroll.
Besides Oladipo, no player currently on the roster makes more than $5 million after next season. With free-agent money suddenly tougher to come by around the NBA, the Pacers could have a financial edge the next few years.
Zach LaVine is due big money this summer — just not the big money he feels he’s worth. Beyond LaVine, the Bulls’ rebuild is as debt-free as it comes.
Like the Pacers, the Bulls could be sitting pretty largely because of their pending cap space. Moving forward with Lauri Markkanen, LaVine and an improving Kris Dunn, plus whomever they grab with the seventh overall pick in June, will allow them to shop for one big-ticket free agent after next season.
The bench is still in the making, and coach Fred Hoiberg’s contract will be a topic of conversation after next season, but a young core is already intact.
It’s not an attractive market, and cap space could be tight depending on Jabari Parker’s contract resolution. But Giannis Antetokounmpo showed flashes this season that he could have a James-like quality to carry a franchise beyond expectations.