So we've now entered the "will LeBron James stay with the Lakers?" phase of the summer.
With both sides officially in the window to agree on an extension, every day that passes only increases the worry and rumors that LeBron will at least consider bolting in free agency in 2023.
Given his track record of leaving aging teams looking like a smoldering crater in his departure, it's not out of the realm of possibility to at least consider the option that James is at least weighing his options. It's what he's always done, and the Lakers sure don't look like a title contender at the moment (+1000 on BetMGM).
Add that to the very serious goal of playing with his son Bronny before he retires, and it's not hard to cook up a pretty believable conspiracy theory involving where James could end up next.
Lucky for you, I've already done my own research and have one ready to go.
Let's Go Back In Time
First, let's take a trip back to 2014, when LeBron was suffering through an NBA Finals where a suddenly eroding Miami Heat team would eventually lose to the Spurs in five games, including three straight losses to put them out of their misery.
The talk of James leaving for anywhere still seemed unreasonable, given the fact that he'd come up quite short of those "seven" NBA titles he threw around when being introduced in Miami. Then, it started to take shape, as the rumors swirled and the roster comparisons made it much more enticing.
A young Cavs team loaded with lottery picks from the years of losing after James bolted for the Heat had helped reshape a team that looked perfect for LeBron to drop right back in to.
Eventually, he'd return, and bring a title to Cleveland.
Fast forward to 2022, where these Lakers are clearly in a worse position than that '14 Heat team. They can't move Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis can't stay healthy, and without a longer commitment from James, there's not much wiggle-room for the front office to improve things either.
So....what about another return to Cleveland for LeBron?
The Cavs are loaded with talent and overachieved big-time this past season, jumping way past their preseason win total of 33.5 with 44 (I love that over 42.5 for them this year, by the way).
Evan Mobley is on pace to win what looks to be multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards while playing alongside Jarrett Allen, who is a menace near the rim in his own right. Darius Garland is now an All-Star. Collin Sexton (if they don't trade him) has suddenly become a luxury and potential Sixth Man of the Year if they bring him off the bench. Lauri Markkanen is a great floor stretcher, along with countless other assets.
Imagine for a minute, LeBron decided to take a small contract, given that he's a billionaire and all, then signs in Cleveland with the assurance they can get Bronny in the 2024 draft. Don't think he has that power? Well, remember when he subtly hinted to the Heat how much he liked Shabazz Napier, only to have them eventually go get him in a draft-day trade? Yup, that happened, and LeBron didn't even stay, instead signing with the Cavs.
This is the NBA, and it's LeBron James. Anything is possible, and all the pieces fit perfectly.
So let's all put some tin foil on our heads, and see what happens with another return to Cleveland for LeBron James.