So you may have heard LeBron James, the same guy who’s averaged a triple double in his last nine Finals games, could be a free agent this summer. Wow! How about that? In the swift flick of the pen, LeBron has the ability to shift the entire power balance of the NBA. Maybe he decides to join the Rockets and form a superteam with Chris Paul and James Harden. Maybe he decides to sign with the Sixers and help Joel Embiid build the perfect Tinder account. Whatever the case may be, LeBron has options, and it’s almost universally agreed upon that his current team, the Cavaliers, is the worst one. Why is that? Well, that’s why we’re here. Let’s go over the best reasons for why James would want to leave the franchise he’s led to four straight Finals.
5. Dan Gilbert
Remember the scene in The Dark Knight when The Joker tells Harvey Dent he killed his fiancé but asks him to become partners in crime anyway? I’m not sure that marriage is all that different from the relationship between LeBron and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. It’s painfully obvious that James doesn’t care much for Gilbert. For all the acceptance the two preached publicly when James announced he was coming home, the next four years told a different story. Remember when LeBron basically shrugged off Gilbert at the championship parade? James and Gilbert simply used each other, and for a while, things were mutually beneficial. But there’s no love here.
It’s obvious this partnership is broken, and there’s zero trust here on both sides. There’s a reason why LeBron wouldn’t commit to Cleveland long-term, and it’s because he always wanted to hold Gilbert’s feet to the fire. That’s not a healthy relationship! Imagine telling your significant other that every few months you would like an out in case they don’t prove to you how much the relationship means to them every day. I’m no fan of Gilbert, and he was stupid to let go of David Griffin, but—actually, there’s no but. Gilbert never really deserved LeBron.
So if James is to leave, hopefully it’s because he can go somewhere where he can have more synergy with the front office. LeBron can be a handful, and commanding his respect is not an easy task for anyone. But wherever he ends up, expect him to have a much more positive relationship with the owner and GM.
4. The Weather
The Cleveland winters can’t be great for James’s aging back. This is a man who used to bike to work on the sunny streets of downtown Miami. Take this from someone who moved from South Florida to the midwest—those freezing temps are a wakeup call. I’m not here to pile on Cleveland, which seems like a perfectly lovely city. I am here to say that humans were silly to ever build civilizations this far from the tropics. I’ll become a flat-earther if that somehow means no more winters.
3. His Teammates
One more time, let’s take a look at two relevant videos from the most recent NBA Finals.
LeBron is a man who on some level is extremely tired with dealing with the people around him. When has he ever done something as stupid as injuring himself after a loss? LeBron almost reached his quite literal breaking point with this Cavs team. It seems like it would be a lot healthier for James to be surrounded by some more, uh, positive forces.
LeBron doesn’t need to ring chase. His legacy is secure. If he retired today, he would retire as a top-two player of all-time, with an incredible case for being the best basketball player in the history of the universe. That’s not bad! James is basically the Lee Jenkins of the NBA. But that doesn’t mean LeBron doesn’t want more rings. If the Warriors never came along, maybe James would be more comfortable riding out his career with a little less drama. But a championship now wouldn’t simply add to the ring count, it would add to the head count. Think about the teams LeBron has buried over the last eight years. Rose’s Bulls. PG’s Pacers. Pierce’s Celtics. Toronto’s Raptors. James has conquered every one of his foes convincingly, but Golden State’s 3–1 record against him in the Finals has to gnaw on him at his core. So if LeBron leaves Cleveland to chase championships, that’s a good reason to go! But it won’t be about piling up rings for a never-ending debate; It will be about proving he can stop yet another franchise in his way.
The outpouring of sympathy for LeBron after these Finals reached a fever pitch. (I myself am incredibly guilty here.) It was all probably the slightest bit over the top. At the same time, there was a definite sadness about this Cavs team, and James in particular, who was stuck in purgatory for an entire season. LeBron really played in every single game this year, his 15th season in the league, leading the NBA in minutes, even though he definitely knew his team had no shot at winning a championship. The best way to describe this Cleveland team would be joyless. Whatever James does next, I hope he prioritizes fun. That may sound like a millennial take, but the stakes attached to LeBron’s every shot have been exhausting for way too long. Whether it’s Houston or Los Angeles or Philly or Miami, James should go to a team that’s going to ensure he enjoys what is left of his career. LeBron is significantly closer to the end of his playing days than the start. Instead of being beholden to non-stop talk about his legacy, LeBron deserves to experience joy in whatever he does next. What joy means to LeBron—winning titles, playing with smart teammates, partnering with a chill owner—only he really knows.