LeBron James is now a Laker.
After a number of teams inquiring for his services, the biggest free agent this summer has decided he will be playing for the Los Angeles club next season. James’ agency, Klutch Sports Group, released a press announcing the much awaited free agency decision—the third in his career.
Klutch Sports, in a digital press release, said:
“LeBron James, four time NBA MVP, three time NBA finals MVP, fourteen time NBA All Star, and two time Olympic gold medallist has agreed to a four year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.”
The decision to leave his hometown club Cleveland Cavaliers was heavily influenced by the team’s failure to build a competent team around him. A James-led Cavs lost three NBA Finals in four years, with 2018’s 4-0 defeat being the biggest loss. Now, James’ Lakers squad is expected to bring back silverware to one of the most popular franchises in the NBA.
Reviving the Laker Legacy
The move lands the Lakers organization its first superstar after five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant retired in 2016. After the Los Angeles team won its 16th title in 2010, the team struggled to reach a Playoff berth and spiraled down into the bottom. An aging Bryant, coupled with disastrous player trades, meant that the team was far from being the storied franchise it once was. Lakers missed the Playoffs for five consecutive seasons, finishing with a win-loss of no .427 and lower.
Come 2018 and the Lakers are poised for a postseason comeback. To accompany James is a promising young squad in lottery picks Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, together with surprise rookie players Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma. The Lakers organization also landed from the free agency Lance Stephenson, two-time Champion JaVale McGee, and former Celtic Rajon Rondo. With a squad quality miles above compared with James’ Cavs team last season, the Purple and Gold can likely reach the later stages of the postseason, analysts expect.
Bryant, in a radio interview, said:
“With LeBron [James] on this roster, I don’t think it will be much of an issue to make the playoffs. The dreams are substantially bigger now. [He] accelerates the learning curve for these young guys and they will be able to learn a lot faster because they will get a chance to watch him work every single day, how he comes to practice, how he takes care of his body and how he handles his nutrition.”
With the James acquisition, Lakers’ chances to win the 2018 NBA Championship have dramatically increased, as evidenced by shortened odds offered by online sportsbooks. Pinnacle has the Los Angeles Lakers to win outright at 9.00, Betway’s offered odds are at 4.50, and bet365 priced them at 4.75.
Facing the Warriors
Established powerhouses already replaced Laker’s dominance in the Western Conference. The biggest of them is the reigning NBA champion, the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors organization is not content with its title-winning squad. Even after convincingly winning three NBA titles in four tries—the one loss to James’ Cavs—the Golden State outfit is favorite to sign superstar center DeMarcus Cousins. His addition will increase the absurd number of superstars in a team that already includes sharpshooters Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, powerful big man Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant.
On paper, the current Lakers—or any team for that matter—do not stand a chance against the Warriors juggernaut. However, James’ addition would mean that another team could challenge the Golden State superteam for the Western crown. After all, if James managed to carry an inferior Cavaliers team to the NBA Finals for four years straight, imagine what he can do in a more promising squad.
Rohan Nadkarni, from Sports Illustrated, said:
“LeBron’s decision to (likely) form a new superteam of sorts in Los Angeles is a win for everyone. It’s a win for the NBA’s bottom line. It’s a win for a storied franchise looking to resurrect itself. And it’s a win for fans who want to see the Warriors eventually challenged at their highest level. It made the most sense for everyone.”
Challenge they might do, but sportsbooks do not see other teams displacing the Golden State Warriors in the top. Pinnacle has the Warriors at 1.40, Betway’s odds are at 1.62, and bet365 at 2.00.
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A Lakers-Celtics Rivalry
An interesting outcome out of the James acquisition would be the return of NBA’s historic rivalry, the Los Angeles Lakers against the Boston Celtics.
Ever since their last meeting in the NBA Finals in 2010, the games between the two teams were never as highly contested as before. However, the fault lies solely on the decline of the Lakers. The Celtics remained as one of the respectable teams in the Eastern Conference, even after the departure of Boston’s big three—Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen—in 2013. Although the team never challenged for the top spot, it always earned qualification to the Playoffs.
However, this year looks different. Led by the direction from an impressive coach in Brad Stevens, and the absence of a player of James’ stature in the East, the Celtics are on its way to conquer their conference. Prized players Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier surround superstar—and James’ former guard in Cleveland—Kyrie Irving.
Justin Verrier, from The Ringer, said:
“Let’s get this out of the way: rivalries in 2018 are bullshit. But James’ move to LA gives us the best chance at a full-blown rivalry in years. [James and Irving are] the faces of the two of the two most successful franchises in the league, led by two players from the glory days in Magic [Johnson] and Danny Ainge. If there’s any hope of ever getting a clash beyond the forced funeral games in recent years, it’s this.”
The rivalry never stops on the court. It continues on the sportsbooks as well. Online bookies gave the Boston Celtics slightly better odds than the Lakers. Pinnacle offered odds at 6.37. Betway has the Celtics at 6.50 while bet365 has them at 5.50.