On the first day of NBA free agency, the biggest domino has fallen. Via a press release issued through his agency, Klutch Sports Group, LeBron James will sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. The deal will cover four years and pay James $154 million.
James opted out of the final year of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers on June 29, which limited his choices to re-signing with the Cavs, joining the Lakers or signing with the Philadelphia 76ers. L.A. had more cap room than Philly or Cleveland (although the Cavs could have gone over the cap to keep James), so they had the financial means to go after the future Hall of Fame forward. After a few days of deliberation, James -- who has a house in Los Angeles -- decided to join one of the most storied franchises in the history of the NBA.
Lakers getting one of the best of all time
A four-time league MVP, James has continued to play at an extraordinarily high level despite 15 years of mileage, including the playoffs -- not to mention his international career. He played all 82 games for the Cavs last year, the first time he has done that, and turned in another sterling season for his hometown team, averaging 27.5 points, 9.1 assists, and 8.6 rebounds per game with a 62.1 true shooting percentage. Despite having just one fringe All-Star around him, James carried the Cavs to their fourth straight NBA Finals, where they were swept by the Golden State Warriors.
With James in the fold, the Lakers now become an instant contender in the Western Conference. Unless they add another star -- which seems unlikely with James aboard and team resigning Kentavious Caldwell-Pope -- they probably won't have enough to challenge the Warriors right now. But with the Houston Rockets getting older and the San Antonio Spurs getting worse, the Lakers have as good of a chance as any other team.
As for the Cavs, they are done as a viable playoff team, let alone a championship contender. Even with James gone, this team is well over the cap; players like Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, George Hill, J.R. Smith and Jordan Clarkson all have large contracts compared to their talent level, making them very difficult to move. They probably move into yet another rebuilding phase, where they will see if first-round pick Collin Sexton is a player to build around for the future.