A month ago, I would have said I have a better chance of getting a date with beautiful actress Salma Hayek than LeBron James seriously considering the Spurs as his next employer.
While I have yet to even meet Salma, I’m not so sure all that LeBron-to-San Antonio chatter on social media should be dismissed so quickly. While a healthy dose of skepticism is essential for any journalist, I learned early in my 41-year career that it’s also critical to keep an open mind.
Speculation regarding James' future has ramped up exponentially since the Golden State Warriors completed a sweep of James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals last week. James, 33, is widely expected to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Cavs this summer and become a free agent.
Once perceived a long shot to land James, the Spurs are now being mentioned in the same sentence with the handful of NBA teams thought to have a good shot of signing him. NBA analyst Reggie Miller said on ESPN’s “First Take” TV show this week that James going to the Spurs “make sense.”
Some media outlets handicapping the King James sweepstakes have the Houston Rockets and Spurs as the front-runners. James couldn’t go wrong with either franchise. If he signs with Houston, he joins point guard Chris Paul and high-scoring guard James Harden. James would join forwards Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge if he opted to play for San Antonio.
Both teams would have sufficient talent – to say the least – to dethrone the Golden State Warriors, who have won three of the last four league championships and four consecutive Western Conference titles.
Speaking of Leonard, let’s get this out of the way now: He will remain with the Spurs.
By the way, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me this spring about Leonard’s status. I’d have enough dinero to take a nice vacation.
There is no way coach Gregg Popovich is going to lose his best player to another team. Leonard is reportedly close to making a full recovery from the quad injury that limited him to nine games last season, and he should be good to go when the 2018-19 campaign tips off.
The Spurs will offer Leonard the five-year, $219 million supermax contract extension he’s eligible for, and he will sign the new deal next month.
Leonard signed a five-year contract in 2015 worth more than $90 million. The deal runs through the 2019-20 season, but Leonard could opt out of the contract after the 2018-19 season and become a free agent. But that’s not going to happen. Popovich will see to that.
Anybody who thinks Pop is going to let Leonard walk hasn’t been paying attention the past 20 years. If they haven’t already, the coach and player will have a few sit-downs this summer and hash out what happened during the long, frustrating 2017-18 season. The Silver and Black struggled without Leonard, barely making the playoffs and losing to defending league champ Golden State in the first round.
A rift between Leonard’s representatives and the Spurs’ front office over the handling of his injury developed during his prolonged absence. But just as he did last summer when a frustrated Aldridge asked to be traded, Pop will smooth things out with Leonard. Aldridge stayed put and had an outstanding season.
Back to LeBron James. It’s old news that James and Pop share a relationship of mutual respect and admiration, but this is worth repeating because that likely would be a key factor in James’ decision to sign with the Spurs. Having an opportunity to play for one of the best coaches in NBA history, and for a franchise widely recognized as one of the best in pro sports, would be difficult to resist.
At the very least, we can expect James to meet with Pop and the Spurs as he checks off his list of suitors. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. All this will shake itself out in the next month.
Until James decides where he wants to continue his stellar career, let’s have fun with all the daily speculation about his future. After all, it’s sports, not rocket science.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep trying to get that date with Salma Hayek.