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Debunking the LeBron James to Clippers Rumors

Rumors have started swirling that the Clippers are a free agent destination for LeBron next summer. Here’s why those rumors can be ignored... for now.

Olympics Day 14 - Basketball Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I wrote last summer, the day after Kevin Durant went to Golden State, that the best possible way to challenge the Warriors would be to assemble Team Banana Boat (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony). In the original article, it seemed that the easiest location to do so would be in Cleveland. But now, with the Cavs down 3-0 in the Finals and LeBron a free agent next summer, rumors have heated up about Bron coming West to Los Angeles.

First of all, let’s walk through the piece that ignited this discussion. Kevin O’Conner (a respected writer for the Ringer), says that:

O’Connor then mentions a discussion with NBA analyst and former player Jalen Rose, who believes that LeBron will move to California, citing LeBron having a home “30 minutes from Staples Center” as a driving factor. In addition, “multiple sources” think that the Lakers or Clippers are a viable explanation. Finally, an Adrian Wojnarowski quote about LeBron joining up with “buddies somewhere warm” from last summer is pulled.

What does this all mean? Well, it’s very possible that LeBron and pals have discussed meeting up again somewhere else: Melo and Paul have never even sniffed an NBA Finals, and didn’t get in on the fun of playing with best friends that Wade and James received in Miami. Going somewhere warm makes sense— almost everyone prefers sunny beaches to snow and cold. And the Clippers do have one big advantage, which is that Paul can re-sign with them for the mega-max (a rule he pushed through the CBA for himself). All those things theoretically point to a Banana Boat reunion on the Clippers (though seriously, so many players have homes in LA that citing that as a reason for a free agent move is rather ludicrous).

The issues? First of all, there’s not much of a basketball reason for LeBron to leave Cleveland. The Cavs have made the Finals three years in a row, won once, and are clearly the second best team in the league behind the Warriors. Going further back, LeBron has made the NBA Finals a staggering seven straight years out of the Eastern Conference; it’s his roost, and leaving it doesn’t make much sense. The Cavaliers look like they are about to get swept, yes. And many of the role players on the team appear to be washed. Yet I’m just not sure if that’s enough to drive LeBron away from a great situation. It’s also not like the Clippers have inspired much confidence with their play over the past couple years, especially against the Warriors.

Second, LeBron isn’t even a free agent this summer. All this discussion is centered around his potential free agency in the summer of 2018. One year in the NBA is a long, long time: who knows what could happen between now and then. The Cavs could somehow win a championship next summer if the Warriors collapse, or the Clippers could fall apart this summer in free agency. If these rumors start coming up again at this time next summer, and Paul is still on the Clippers, we might have something. Let’s remember though, there was no sign LeBron was returning to Cleveland until right before he did so, and Golden State was not even thought of for the most part as an option for KD until the Warriors lost last year. So much can change in a year’s time, or even a month’s time, that predicting next summer’s free agency is almost entirely guesswork.

Finally, getting all four of those guys under the cap would be a major chore. Paul will be getting the super-max this summer, and LeBron has stated before that he isn’t taking a paycut for the remainder of his career (at least not a significant one). Melo and Wade might be declining, but each are still worth contracts in the 10+ million dollar range, and getting all that onto the Clippers would take some incredible maneuvering. That’s not even taking into account the contracts already on the Clippers, and finding cap space on other teams for them to be absorbed into. The difficulties of going from a Paul-Blake-DJ core to that of Paul-Wade-Melo-Bron are many, and they are complicated.

All in all, the probability of LeBron coming to the Clippers is extremely low. There is way too much working against a Team Banana Boat on the Clippers, even if there is a desire by the players involved for it to happen. I don’t doubt that O’Connor’s sources are real, and that someone somewhere wants or thinks that LeBron to the Clippers should or will happen. Right now, it’s just a little hard to believe. Perhaps the biggest reason I don’t have faith: I can’t imagine LeBron James ever playing for the Clippers. It’s simply too good to be true.