After a short wait, we now know where Lebron will play the tail end of his career, a decision that those who have been paying attention ultimately expected. Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers sealed the deal Saturday night, reports indicate. This is a major shift in the NBA landscape. Lebron leaving the East all but lays out the red carpet for the Celtics to walk through next season with the Sixers presenting their only real threat (unless you consider Toronto but, eh). A graphic displayed on ESPN illustrated that only one first team All-NBA performer now resides in the Eastern Conference. Underwhelmingly, that one player is Joakim Noah. This was a seismic shift, as Woj put it. With Paul George’s return to Oklahoma City coupled with Lebron’s arrival, the West is more loaded than ever before.
Lebron took the sports world by storm, announcing that he would sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in Free Agency, only to be outdone again in winning time by the Golden State Warriors. His rivalry with Golden State is reaching peculiar levels at this point. He beat them in 2016, and they added Durant. This summer he decided to take his talents to Hollywood, the Warriors added arguably the best big man in the game coming off a torn Achilles. The connection is eerie. Wherever Lebron decided to go, it would change the trajectory of that franchise astronomically. The Lakers now will leave the basement and join the rest of the league in trying to figure out a way to dethrone the Warriors. Back to square one for Lebron.
So how did we get here? The NBPA deserves some blame. Back in 2015, when the NBA received the 24 billion dollars in TV money, they proposed an incremental increase in the salary cap to retain competitive balance throughout the league. The NBPA turned them down and voted to allow the salary cap to explode from 70 million to 94 million which led to two years of irresponsible spending (looking at you, Timofey Mozgov) across the league and oh, Kevin Durant to the Warriors. That is why it is ironic to see players across the association complain via social media about the Boogie signing when THEY VOTED TO REJECT SALARY CAP SMOOTHING WHICH ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN. So, while the world is in a panic over the Monstar roster the Warriors front office has assembled, in a lot of ways, the NBPA and the players have only themselves to blame.
There is a silver lining and room to breathe. Boogie is coming off a major injury and likely will not be ready until January or February. That coupled with the fact that this is a one-year deal means that he will likely not be with the team after next year. I suspect that Cousins is betting on himself to prove that he can participate in a winning culture and remain healthy on his way to his first ring in order to cash out next summer. Fair enough, the Warriors' odds to win the title again next year without him were more than favorable anyway.
With that understanding, the Lakers and the rest of the league now have the luxery to sit back and take a deep breath to prepare for next summer. You never want to concede a season before it begins, but we're here now (the Warriors just signed Demarcus freakin’ Cousins). For the first time in a long time, the Lakers have options. Lebron is locked in for at least three years and as I am typing this still have a young core of talent in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma, not to mention draft picks for the future. Lebron being the cerebral person that he is must understand that this is a process. This was a huge summer for the franchise in that the Lakers are not known for signing landmark free agents during the period. They were able to acquire Dwight Howard in 2012 and before that the most notable signing was Shaquille O’Neal in 1996 (purposely omitting Karl Malone and Gary Payton given their age). It appears that Magic knows what he is doing to this point which is far and above what Lakers fans could express under the previous regime.
Another story in the early signings this summer is the location in which the stars have landed. Certainly, this is not the first time that a conference has been lopsided. We saw this in the '80s with Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Detroit. However, in today’s association more so than in the past, that means the mega stars are aligned on one side of the country. Whether or not this is good for the league remains to be seen. The league has always had dynasties. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers dominated the NBA for nearly two decades. Michael Jordan’s Bulls won six out of six titles and never went to a game 7 in the NBA Finals. This is not new. Despite what the fans may think of this Warriors team, they are doing it under the rules and provisions that have been constructed.
Moving forward, we must understand that superteams are here to stay for the foreseeable future. The salary cap is set at $101.9 million dollars for next season and as the league will only continue to grow, that will surely continue to increase. The peculiar thing about this move is that it indicates a contradiction in the fans' perspective. Fans often bemoan about athletes making moves for money in place of winning. In the case of Boogie, he took significantly less to join a team that is about winning. Eventually we as fans are going to have to decide what we want from our athletes. Do we want them to chase titles or dollars? Realistically, they should be able to do both on their terms. In the rare instance one outweighs the other in favor of winning, it should be applauded. Even if it benefits the Warriors.