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LeBron James chose to return to Ohio and play for the Cleveland Cavaliers for at least the next two seasons. So naturally, the Cavs have become favorites to win the NBA title next season. That being said, what if LeBron went elsewhere? Would that particular team still be the favorites like Cleveland is right now?
Let’s find out:
When LeBron opted out of South Beach, not every team had a chance to get his services, mainly because of the NBA’s salary cap. However, what if we assume that there is no salary cap, and that LeBron was free to move to any NBA team out there?
For the purposes of this discussion, let us plug LeBron into to each of the NBA teams’ rosters, without considering finances. Let’s start with the Eastern Conference (in descending order according to their 2013-14 regular season records).
Indiana Pacers (56-26)
Fortunately, Lance Stephenson is gone or else he might blow into James’ ear during practices. Unfortunately though, Paul George is out for the season. A James-George tandem could’ve been the next Jordan-Pippen. Miami eliminated Indiana the past three years in a row, but if we put LeBron on that opposite side, it would’ve been the other way around. 2015 would be tough to win a title for Indiana, even with LeBron around, although the Pacers would surely win the Eastern Conference over the Chicago Bulls. 2016 and beyond would be even better with Paul George back.
Miami Heat (54-28)
The Big Three would be returning for another title run. Let’s just assume that Luol Deng is still here as well, on top of the additions of Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts. Getting those three, plus Shabazz Napier, would give the Miami Heat a reloaded team and three players who might have made up the difference in the 2014 NBA Finals. In 2015 they would win 55 to 62 games and reclaim the crown from the Spurs. Remember not one, not two, not three? This new lineup would make it at least four to perhaps six NBA titles for The King.
Toronto Raptors (48-34)
What would LeBron have been called in Toronto? Bron-asaurus James or Bron-sanity? Whatever monicker would have been there for him, James would’ve taken over Canada more than Vince Carter or Chris Bosh ever did during their eras. Combining Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, and LeBron James would give the Toronto Raptors incredible athleticism and make them exciting to watch. The Raptors would definitely win at least 50 games with James in town, but a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals would be a big accomplishment.
Chicago Bulls (48-34)
Like the Heat, this Bulls would be NBA champs with LeBron next season. Derrick Rose looks phenomenal in the USA Basketball workouts, while Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler continue to improve. Adding LeBron to their reloaded team, which includes newcomers Aaron Brooks, Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, and Doug McDermott, makes them loaded with talent. And with the NBA’s best defense, anchored by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, Chicago would be nearly unbeata-Bull in 2015. LeBron would lead the charge in a title season where 60 regular season wins would be a modest estimate.
Washington Wizards (44-38)
The Washington Wizards surprised a lot of people by making the second round of the playoffs last season. Having LeBron around would take them all the way to the 2015 Conference Finals. The up and coming Wizards would have a starting unit of John Wall, Bradley Beal, LeBron James, Marcin Gortat, and Nene Hilario. Add Paul Pierce and you’ve got two of the best closers on one team. That’s a pretty good one for D.C., but they would still struggle and lose to the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Finals.
Brooklyn Nets (44-38)
The only way that Mikhail Prokhorov doesn’t take a bride is this way, because LeBron would give the Brooklyn Nets the best chance to win an NBA title in this era. James will make the Nets the better New York team, but with Pierce gone and Deron Williams often injured, the Nets might just win 50 games and reach the second round of the playoffs once again.
Charlotte Hornets (43-39)
No, not here. Imagine the talent of a team that has Lance Stephenson and LeBron James together? That’s awesome, if there are no strings attached. That combination would be fragile considering the history between the two. Also, remember that wink to MJ during the playoffs? Would that mean nothing between two of the greatest ever? The Charlotte Hornets have a good young team and the addition of Stephenson makes them contenders in the East. Adding LeBron would make them good for the Eastern Conference Finals.
Atlanta Hawks (38-44)
The Atlanta Hawks have a lot of talent, but they are without a big market and a true superstar. LeBron gives them that superstar player who would make the other young guns a whole lot better. That being said, this team doesn’t really have enough depth to make it all the way to the Conference Finals. A seven-game second round series would be a big achievement for the James here.
New York Knicks (37-45)
Did LeBron say that he wanted to play with Carmelo Anthony before his NBA career is over? The New York Knicks weren’t really a bad team talent-wise last season, and they were very good in 2012-13. They just ran into a funk last season. The one-2 punch of LeBron and Carmelo would be lethal, especially with a brain like the Zen Master Phil Jackson calling the shots from the front office. The Knicks would pack Madison Square Garden like a mecca from day one, but the title would have to wait until 2016 for when they reload from free agency. 2015 should lead them to the ECF, where they would be beaten by the Bulls.
Cleveland Cavaliers (33-49)
This is the reality that we have right now. However, what makes Cleveland an immediate title contender like no other isn’t just LeBron James, but it’s the combination of James’ return and getting the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. Look now where that’s leading them to: getting Kevin Love and pairing him with James and Kyrie Irving, along with Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. Throw in the veteran shooters who want to join the ring-hunting expedition and you have the ultimate title contender. Even the Spurs would have problems with this unit. Now that Love has joined the Cavs, this team won’t only win the 2015 NBA title, they have the potential to do what Chicago did in the 90’s. They’ve got dynasty written all over them.
Detroit Pistons (29-53)
This is one team that should be happy to reach the playoffs with LeBron James. The Detroit Pistons are competitive, but they don’t have enough chemistry to be contenders, not even if James averaged 40 points per game. Don’t get us wrong, this team’s got talent, but the combination of Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, and Josh Smith doesn’t look like a winner at all.
Boston Celtics (25-57)
Like the Pistons, the Boston Celtics are two players away from title contention, even if LeBron is there with Rajon Rondo. The Cs are in such a deep rebuild that even LeBron James wouldn’t really make a difference in the playoffs. Coming to Boston would more likely be like his first tour of duty with Cleveland where he had to carry the team on his broad shoulders. LeBron can do that, but he can’t do that and win NBA titles. If these Celtics made the playoffs, it would already be an achievement for them.
Orlando Magic (23-59)
Orlando’s got a lot of youth and talent out there, but winning the title would truly take magic. LeBron is the best, but he’s no magician. Good talent here, but again not enough to win it all. The Orlando Magic are due to be at least 42-42 with LeBron, but in the East, that record should be good for the eighth or ninth spot.
Philadelphia 76ers (19-63)
With a healthy Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers have a very solid frontline. Without Embiid, this team looks different. Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams are two talented kids, but this team doesn’t have enough talent to back up their starters. That being said, James would be there to mold their young core into better players for future seasons. This team has a lot of promise, but it doesn’t look like they would get past Round 1 of the postseason.
Milwaukee Bucks (15-67)
Jason Kidd and LeBron James have a lot of respect and admiration for each other, but to ask if that translates to victories is another story. Kidd’s coaching inexperience and James’ championship pedigree would not jell well on the court. Jabari Parker and LeBron would be a good pair, but that wouldn’t be enough to take them far. Playoffs? Yes, but barely in as a seventh or eighth seed.