When LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018, there was a sense of finality. The former Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat superstar inked a four-year pact with LA, a clear sign he was committed to the Purple and Gold. James’ polarizing decision was validated when he led the Lakers to their 17th NBA championship in 2020.
Less than two weeks before his 37th birthday, LeBron is trying to right the ship of a downtrodden Lakers team fighting to stay above .500. Meanwhile, James’ longtime club in Cleveland has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. Naturally, this prompted NBA pundit Bill Simmons to wonder when people will start predicting the King’s return to Ohio.
LeBron James has one more year with the struggling Los Angeles Lakers
The LA-Bron experience has resulted in a championship, so no one can characterize it as a failure. But it’s OK to admit it’s been a slight disappointment through a little more than three seasons.
In 2018-19, after the four-time MVP joined the young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers finished 37-45. A big reason why was a groin injury that cost James 27 games, the most significant injury of his career. LA then rode the duo of James and Anthony Davis to a championship in the bubble. But its title defense fell short when injuries to LeBron and AD eventually led to a 42-30 finish and a first-round exit.
This season, for the third time in four years, James has missed significant time. Between his ankle, abdomen, and a brief stint on health and safety protocols, the 17-time All-Star has missed 12 of LA’s 30 games. As a result, the Lakers have stumbled out of the gate to a 16-14 record.
The 2021-22 campaign was originally expected to be the last of LeBron’s four-year, $153 million deal. But the veteran inked a two-year extension in 2020 worth $85.6 million, meaning the King will become a 38-year-old unrestricted free agent after the 2022-23 season.
Bill Simmons wonders when the ‘LeBron to Cleveland’ train will depart
Unlike the first time James left town, the Cavaliers appear to be on an upward trajectory. While they remain a long way away from going to four consecutive NBA Finals again, LeBron’s old club is an impressive 18-12. For context, Cleveland won only 19 games in each of the King’s first two Lakers seasons.
With young players like Evan Mobley and Darius Garland leading the charge, the league is taking notice of the upstart Cavs. Perhaps LeBron is doing the same. In that case, Simmons’ tongue-in-cheek tweet might become more than fiction.
“We are like 5 days away from the first unsubstantiated ‘LeBron loves what he’s seeing from the young Cavaliers and might want to finish his career there’ story and I honestly can’t wait.Bill Simmons
Simmons, a diehard Boston Celtics fan with a passionate hatred for the Purple and Gold, likely wouldn’t object to the idea of LeBron spurning the Lakers in a little over 18 months.
Would LeBron James have a third stint with the Cavs?
Over the course of James’ illustrious 19-year career, we’ve seen the future Hall of Famer change teams three times. He has found success each time, winning at least one title in Cleveland, Miami, and Los Angeles. Is it possible LeBron has one more big move left in him?
As of this summer, the four-time champion made it clear he had every intention of playing out the remainder of his career in Southern California.
“I truly hope that I can finish my career with the Lakers,” James said on the SmartLess podcast. “However many years that is, if it’s four, five, six, whatever, seven. I hope I can continue to play the game. I love being in LA, my family loves being in LA.”
That being said, a lot can happen between now and the summer of 2023. Given how the Lakers possess the league’s oldest roster, this seems like the end of LA’s LeBron-led contention window. Meanwhile, the Cavs’ top-six players by average minutes are all 24 or younger. It’s entirely possible that in two years, we’ll be talking about Cleveland as more of a contender than LA.
Given the direction of both franchises, it wouldn’t be surprising to see legitimate reporters mention the Cavaliers as a “final” destination for King James. And to be honest, seeing him retire in the place it all began would be a storybook ending Hollywood simply couldn’t duplicate.