If the San Antonio Spurs have to face a LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers in 2018-19, then look out in the Western Conference.
The Western Conference has grown into a superpowered attempted to take down the Golden State Warriors, not just including the San Antonio Spurs. The Houston Rockets added Chris Paul to team with James Harden. The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague. The Oklahoma City Thunder traded for Paul George. The New Orleans Pelicans even traded for DeMarcus Cousins in February, in hope of building an inside-out foundation.
A notable big-name team not mentioned is the Los Angeles Lakers. Under new president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, the team is after a return to its glory days. The Lakers were a top rival to the Spurs in the early 2000’s, but that faded as the 2010’s hit and the aftermath of the 2010 championship run.
Could they return to that status by 2018, though? According to Bleacher Report’s Peter Vecsey, LeBron James will leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Lakers in the 2018 offseason. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor also mentioned this in the summer.
LeBron James definitively leaving Cavaliers for Lakers after this season. Today's exclusive column https://t.co/MnaPpaFUJh
— Peter Vecsey (@PeterVecsey1) September 16, 2017
July 1, 2018, is far away. Plenty can happen, including another title run for the Cavaliers. It might not be as easy, with Kyrie Irving no longer around, but they should be a playoff team.
James going to the Lakers only shakes the NBA to its core in the latest instance. Again, it would be his departure from Cleveland, which reignites the “sport” of jersey burning. It seemingly happens after any big-name NBA player leaves a team, whether it’s via free agency or trade.
It goes beyond the absurdity of the burning, as the Western Conference adds one of basketball’s greatest players ever. He’s there to help fend off the Warriors and return the Lakers to the title-winning days of the 1960’s, 1980’s, early 2000’s and 2009-10. Maybe a superteam of James, a few big names from the open market and an unproven Lonzo Ball pull this off. The implications go beyond them, though.
For the Spurs, they’re potentially set for one of the most intriguing offseason in franchise history. It’s about who will even be left on the team once July 1, 2018, hits, outside of Kawhi Leonard. LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Danny Green and Joffrey Lauvergne can all decline their player options and hit the open market. Spurs legend Tony Parker is also a free agent, along with Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans, and Bryn Forbes.
There’s a possibility all these players leave next summer, which leaves Leonard, Pau Gasol, a handful of players that are either one or two-year pro’s, and Manu Ginobili, who’s on his last legs.
If a team reconstruction is on the way, it may be tailored toward the James-led Lakers, Warriors, Rockets and the other superteams of the NBA by the summer of 2018. That’s something the Spurs never incorporated into their DNA, as they built from the draft and made under-the-radar signings to fill the gaps.
Is that concept finished in less than 10 months? That depends on the player opt-ins and how the 2017-18 season fares. If everyone chooses to opt-out, then the free-agent class looks extravagant for the Spurs, who will have the money to target players like:
- Paul Goerge
- Russell Westbrook
- DeMarcus Cousins
- Isaiah Thomas
- Chris Paul
- DeAndre Jordan
- Avery Bradley
Everyone can probably cross George’s name off the board. Despite not playing a second for the Thunder, his ties to the Lakers haven’t gone away. If the Paul-James Harden partnership works in Houston, then look for him to stay, too.
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Would the Spurs have a chance at anyone else on the list? Someone like Cousins is the in-his-prime big man the team hasn’t had since Tim Duncan and David Robinson’s glory days. Avery Bradley, like Green, is a defensive stopper but provides more on the offensive end. How would he work next to Leonard?
James to the Lakers will likely set off an Arms Race, something the Spurs might have the cap room to compete with. If everyone stays, then it won’t be until the 2019 offseason before moves can be made to get the star players in free agency.
We haven’t even gotten to the playoffs yet, which will be some of the most exciting NBA action in a pre-Finals series. It could be a battle of superteams, for the right to reach the NBA Finals and presumably win over the battered Eastern Conference. The Spurs would have to get through the Warriors, Rockets, Timberwolves, and Lakers, making for a stacked but difficult race. Can anyone say highest-rated NBA playoffs (pre-Finals) in league history?
This would all be set off by LeBron taking his talents to Southern California. The countdown clock starts at 286 days.