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NBA Daily: LeBron’s Arrival Brings Long-Term Questions

Positioning for LeBron James ensures immediate contention, but with The King’s days numbered, what does it mean for the future?

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In a few short days, LeBron James will make another landscape shifting decision about where he will decide to continue his NBA career.

Up until now, LeBron’s only ever known two basketball homes. First in Cleveland, then in Miami, and now back in Cleveland. Every year since 2010, the NBA Finals has hosted a LeBron-led team. It’s become customary. In order to win the league throne, you must defeat the final Boss (although, it should be noted LeBron’s team has been favored to win the Finals just twice in its nine appearances).

After a long string of dominance in the Eastern Conference, there’s a chance LeBron chooses to switch coasts and conferences for his impending decision. While his hometown Cavaliers are still in a position to retain him, LeBron’s newest possibility seems to be that of the Los Angeles Lakers.

By doing a quick scan of the tea leaves around the league, it becomes clear that if LeBron can assemble another star-studded cast in Hollywood, he’ll do just that. After 15 years of chasing championships, the future Hall of Famer is on record acknowledging that his next decision will heavily take into account his family’s wishes, as opposed to the option that may yield him the quickest route to another title.

A Wednesday morning report by three of the league’s top news breakers in Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne, and Brian Windhorst revealed that LeBron’s prospective new team was beginning to feel the pressure in having to trade for embattled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. The mounting pressure directly results from LeBron’s hesitation to commit to the Lakers’ young core without an assurance of at least one established star there to aid him.

Here enters the LeBron dilemma. Just the mere chance to bring him aboard creates a “must do” for a myriad of scenarios and possibilities should it so please The King. Though LeBron’s services are certainly enough to move mountains for, the true issue becomes the ripple effect his decisions create.

As it stands, the Lakers are a young team on an upswing. Fresh off of a 35-win season in head coach Luke Walton’s second year — nine more wins than his inaugural season at the helm — the Lakers boast a roster with core pieces like Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart. No bonafide star talent, but absolutely some nice complementary pieces on winning teams. Both Ingram and Ball possess all-star upside, so should they grow into their expectations, it isn’t outrageous to suggest the Lakers challenging for a .500 record next season even without any additions.

Bringing LeBron onboard alone wouldn’t disrupt that core. But trading for Leonard, or perhaps another piece in an attempt to ease LeBron’s mind, most certainly would. Of the four players mentioned above, at least two of them plus draft capital would be jettisoned in order to acquire a player of LeBron’s choosing. The gravity of LeBron is strong enough to crush plans for the future in order to make plans for the present. Again, LeBron is arguably the best player ever, so you accommodate accordingly.

But what happens when LeBron leaves?

After 15 years in the NBA — with the last eight ending in Finals appearances — the miles on LeBron’s tires are duly noted. Granted, though he just finished his first 82-game season this past year, LeBron’s workload over the course of his career is well-documented, and it’s fair to suggest that his days of playing at superhuman levels to that extent are limited.

With LeBron in Hollywood, the Lakers would have the identity they’ve searched for since Kobe Bryant opted to retire. For a few seasons at least, Los Angeles would once again be the epicenter of the NBA. Of course, there are no guarantees of a title, but the world would be watching all the same.

However, when LeBron leaves, what will be left?

After LeBron left Cleveland the first time, they spiraled to the basement of the NBA. When LeBron left Miami the HEAT missed the playoffs. Should LeBron leave Cleveland again, it’s hard to see them as a playoff contender.

When LeBron leaves, usually hope does too. For a team like the Los Angeles Lakers, fighting for their relevance in the post-Kobe era, having LeBron is as tantalizing a dream as there will be. But what happens when The King leaves his throne for the final time? It’s a question worth asking when it comes to peddling off assets for a short-term return.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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