LeBron James' 2017-18 season ended with a loss to the Golden State Warriors Friday night. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent during the offseason, and changing teams could greatly impact his fantasy value. Where should fantasy managers hope to see him land to max out his statistical production?
On one hand, LeBron has one of the more robust games in the league, and he will be the presumed focal point of the offense wherever he goes and thus should have plenty of opportunity to produce.
On the other hand, as he continues to age, he has shown in recent years that if he has a supporting cast with enough talent to generate their own offense, he is willing to pace himself and pick his spots more in the regular season.
Also, after the "2010 Decision" that sent LeBron to a team with another alpha creator, his numbers went down slightly.
So which are the best teams for LeBron to join? And, conversely, what would a LeBron arrival mean for his 2018-19 teammates? Here is a look at the top six potential landing spots, ranked from best to worst in fantasy terms.
The best destination for LeBron from a fantasy perspective is to remain exactly where he is. The Cavaliers have been built around him to allow him maximum production, and they currently don't have another creator to take shots out of his hands or let him rest.
They have the eighth pick in the upcoming NBA draft, which could be used to trade for a productive veteran or perhaps bring in a young understudy who is ready to produce now. Either way, the draft pick would be made with LeBron's blessing, so the incoming talent would also fit in around what LeBron likes the do.
Unlike the other teams on this list, I haven't heard anything about the Knicks being in contention for LeBron. However, it's my pet theory that if LeBron leaves Cleveland, he'd do so only to do something he considers legacy-altering.
Many use that argument to suggest he will join the Lakers, but to me, it'd be a bigger feather in his hat to revive a marquee franchise in the biggest market in America that has been left for dead for decades.
Now, the other thing that LeBron would want is to contend for a title, and the Knicks are far from that. But if the Knicks could use this offseason to make some moves that bring in another big-name talent or two through trade and/or the cachet of having LeBron come to town ...
Anyway, such a situation would require the Knicks to build their team quickly around James. There isn't much offensive production there now, so LeBron would get to carry as much weight as he wanted to. And again, any trade that brought in other talent would likely be with LeBron's blessing, suggesting that he would have another chance to build a team in his image.
The Spurs have been mentioned as a landing spot for LeBron, perhaps in some sort of a deal for Kawhi Leonard.
Removing Leonard would be necessary in order for the Spurs to be the third-best option for James' fantasy value, as they proved to be a 50-win-caliber team without Leonard due to their defense and LaMarcus Aldridge's scoring. But their playoff series against the Golden State Warriors emphasized how much they need an offensive creator in order to contend. Enter LeBron, who could generate all the offense that he wanted on a team that would be ready for the big time.
Now, if Kawhi were to stay in town, there would be less space for LeBron to max produce. But with that said, it would arguably be the best "big three" that LeBron has ever played with, as far as his ability to produce. Kawhi can produce off the ball much better than Dwyane Wade or Kyrie Irving, and LaMarcus Aldridge has a lot of offensive similarities to Chris Bosh and Kevin Love.
This scenario doesn't maximize LeBron, but it would likely allow him to have very good production.
The Lakers are the sexiest destination for LeBron, as the Hollywood glamour franchise of the NBA that generally tends to get their share of GOATs in uniform.
The Lakers are full of young talent, specifically perimeter talent, and that's what makes them both attractive and not so natural of a fit for LeBron. The best young talent on the Lakers is at point guard (Lonzo Ball), small forward (Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma) or power forward (Julius Randle). All of these would conflict with LeBron, and if he were to go there in addition to them, they would likely be less effective.
On the other hand, the Lakers have the salary-cap space to sign two max players. The consensus is that they would sign LeBron and Paul George -- but George is yet another small forward. When factoring in youth and redundancy, it's hard to see how such a team could maximize all of its players enough to contend.
If LeBron were to go there, he would clearly become the first option. But unless the Lakers completely give up on Ball, who reminds me a lot of a young Jason Kidd, they can't take him entirely off the ball or else he has no value, since he can't shoot well enough. This would suggest that LeBron would be the primary wing finisher, which could help his scoring and efficiency but would cost him some of the assists that make him so valuable.
The Lakers wouldn't be a bad fantasy destination for LeBron, but they wouldn't be the best one either.
The 76ers could be an attractive real-life destination for LeBron, as they are a very young team that seems ready to contend right now, especially in the Eastern Conference, which provides an easier path to the NBA Finals. These are all positives.
However, the 76ers already have a budding "LeBron-like" superstar in Ben Simmons, whose primary value is tied to his ability to generate offense with the ball in his hands as a physical mismatch. If LeBron is in town and the ball comes out of Simmons' hands, he loses value because he can't shoot. As such, there's redundancy and diminishing returns there.
In addition, the 76ers also have last year's top pick, Markelle Fultz, in the fold, and he's another big-scoring lead guard type who isn't a pure shooter and thus shouldn't operate entirely off the ball. The 76ers could make it work (and obviously would, if they had the chance to get LeBron), but the production fit isn't as clear, and it could cost LeBron some fantasy production in the long run.
The Rockets are the first team on this list that would be a legitimately poor fantasy destination for LeBron. A team running coach Mike D'Antoni's system, utilizing GM Daryl Morey's analytics-based approach of spamming 3-pointers, could fit LeBron if he were the only lead option who was setting up teammates for 3-pointers. However, with James Harden and possibly Chris Paul in the fold, LeBron would very legitimately lose both shot opportunities and assist opportunities in that offense.
Plus, the team would be so good that LeBron could rest and coast on a regular basis in the regular season. His efficiency might go up, but the trade-off would be an overall significant fantasy negative to LeBron's value.