Early on Thursday morning, a tweet from ESPN NBA reporter Chris Haynes sent the sports world into a frenzy.
The Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James can become a free agent this summer and would reportedly consider meeting with the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
In a story a few hours later, Haynes clarified that there is no indication from the Warriors that they are looking to acquire James. Golden State defeated James and the Cavaliers in the 2017 Finals with its core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant.
But there’s no reason to have nightmares of a super-team with LeBron joining the Warriors’ current core just yet.
James might not even become a free agent this summer. He has a $35.6 million player option to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2018-19 season. James is expected to decline that option and at least pursue his options in free agency, with an ultimate return to Cleveland remaining a possibility.
But let’s say LeBron does decide to join the Golden State Warriors next season. The current iteration of the Warriors already has the highest payroll in the league, and would need to make some changes to fit James and his maximum salary. According to ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, the Warriors and Cavaliers could execute a sign-and-trade involving Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala. They would be left with a core of Curry, Durant, Green and James, with little room to add significant talent under the salary cap rules.
A team like that would be a heavy favorite to win multiple NBA titles in the coming years. If that team came together, the Spurs would face some difficult decisions. There would be few teams in the Western Conference who would want to challenge the Warriors. The current Spurs (when healthy) can match up with this year’s Warriors, largely because Kawhi Leonard is one of the best defenders in the league and can neutralize Kevin Durant. But the Spurs only have one Leonard, and he couldn’t guard both Durant and James.
With an aging roster, the Spurs would need to trade for additional talent to try to keep up with a potential Warriors juggernaut. They could also go the other way and trade someone like LaMarcus Aldridge for younger players or picks and rebuild for the future.
But what if the team LeBron joins in free agency isn’t the Warriors? Could James come to San Antonio? Sources have said that James is looking for a place with a winning culture and structure, boxes the Spurs organization checks.
The Spurs will likely have enough cap space to sign James to a maximum salary deal. The only players the Spurs have locked in to next year’s roster are Aldridge, Leonard, Pau Gasol, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Derrick White and Dejounte Murray.
James has played in the NBA’s Eastern Conference since he came into the league in 2003. Even if he explores his options in free agency, there’s no reason to hand the Warriors the next few NBA championships yet. There’s still about half a season to be played, and July’s free agency period is a long way off.