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Sheridan: Where Will LeBron James Land After His Lakers Career is Over?

March 4, 2018; Hollywood, CA, USA; Kobe Bryant, winner of the award for best animated short for "Dear Basketball," poses in the photo room during the 90th Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre. Dan MacMedan-USA TODAY NETWORK

LeBron James is in Europe with his wife, and the next four years of his career will likely be spent with the Los Angeles Lakers. But then what? What will Decision IV look like?

The answer is simple, but complicated.

Aside from adding to his streak of consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals (currently at 8), James’ career goal No. 1 is to play alongside his son, LeBron James, Jr., on the same NBA team. He disclosed that to Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy of ESPN during an interview in this year’s NBA Finals.

So which team will that be? Perhaps it’ll be the team that tanks the 2021-22 season.

May 27, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts in the last seconds of play against the Boston Celtics during the second half in game seven of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Cleveland defeated the Celtics 87-79. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

James is the First Vice President of the NBA Players Association, and so he is privy to what is being discussed between the union and the league in regards to the one-and-done rule, which prohibits NBA teams from drafting players straight out of high school. There is a consensus that the one-and-done rule is dysfunctional and needs to be replaced, though there is not yet a consensus on what the new rule will look like.

Condoleeza Rice has recommended ending the one-and-done rule, and the NBA Board of Governors will discuss her committee’s recommendations at their meeting on Las Vegas on July 10. The NBA Players Association will take up the issue over the summer, too, and Rice has asked for a decision to be reached among the NBA and the NCAA by August.

So that is what the short-term future holds for the one-and-done rule, whereas the short-term future of the Los Angeles Lakers will be determined by what plays out over the course of free agency and in the trade market before the NBA moratorium ends on the afternoon of July 6 at 12:01 p.m., EDT.

A number of trade options are being considered by Lakers executives Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, and names that are being bandied about include Damian Lillard, Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal, and John Wall … among others.

Rajon Rondo was brought aboard Monday on a one-year contract, and Julius Randle was renounced and then agreed to terms with New Orleans. The Lakers now have the means to get to $15 million in salary cap space by stretching Luol Deng’s contract, and that number will go up if they give players away through additional trades. (Got that, LaVar?)

DeMarcus Cousins, Cousins, NBA, New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers
Sam Sharpe/USA Today Sports

For what I was hearing, Cousins could have been brought aboard on a one-year deal if he cannot get a multi-year pact from the Pelicans or through another team via a sign-and trade. Given that he has a busted Achilles tendon and some well-documented maturity issues, it would have been a high-risk acquisition. The Golden State Warriors removed that risk factor by assuming it themselves, agreeing to terms with Cousins on Tuesday afternoon.

But again, what matters to the Lakers is not what the team looks like now, and not what it looks like after next February’s trade deadline, but what it looks like on March 1 after February free agency is finished. If you don’t think Carmelo Anthony in purple in gold is a viable possibility, you should probably figure out what was the dealmaking decision that convinced Paul George it was better to return to Oklahoma City than make the move to his hometown of L.A. as nearly everyone expected him to do.

LeBron’s cell phone will be working in whatever European countries he visits, and he is more more or less the de facto GM of the Lakers, partnering with his agent, Rich Paul. Safe to say that no one has wielded this type of power in Hollywood since Johnny Carson was sitting next to Ed McMahon.

Dec 30, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) reacts after a play during the first quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Kawhi situation remains fluid, with the Sixers still appearing to be the most palatable landing zone given their willingness to put together some package of assets that might include Dario Saric, Rovert Covington, Zhaire Smith, Markelle Fultz and Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round draft pick in order to satisfy the Spurs.

But the monkey wrench if Leonard’s uncle, Dennis Robertson, who is telling anyone who will listen that Leonard will end up in Los Angeles one way or another by the time everything is said and done.

Everyone in the NBA is trying to discern whether it is a bluff.

So this is resembling the annual summer game of NBA poker that takes place year after year but becomes extra interesting every time James has a decision to make.

March 4, 2018; Hollywood, CA, USA; Kobe Bryant, winner of the award for best animated short for “Dear Basketball,” poses in the photo room during the 90th Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre. Dan MacMedan-USA TODAY NETWORK

“The dreams are substantially bigger now,” Kobe Bryant told ESPN. “I spoke to him during the playoffs and then I talked to him last night, right after the decision. I told him, ‘Welcome to the family, man.’ It sounds crazy but I said, ‘Dude you are part of the family now. So anything you need on my end, I got you. Whatever the case may be, I am here for you.’ Just wishing him and his family the best and looking forward to seeing them when they get in.”

The massive LeBron banner hanging downtown is being removed again following the superstar’s announcement he’s leaving Cleveland.

The 10-story billboard, which shows James wearing his No. 23 jersey with his arms spread wide, has become a city landmark. It was also removed in 2010 when left for Miami. With Cleveland entering rebuilding mode, the next reasonable step would appear to be moving Kevin Love, and reports that they have not shopped him are utterly untrue.

A lot has happened already during the first two days of the free agency frenzy, and more craziness lies ahead  .. short term, and long term.

Just remember what I told you about Decision IV. I have been right on this guy a few times before.


Written by Chris Sheridan

Chris Sheridan is a veteran sports journalist who previously covered the NBA for ESPN. He worked for the Associated Press for 18 years, and also served as the 76ers beat writer for Sheridan is the host of Sports Betting Tips, a podcast covering all things gambling.

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