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San Antonio Spurs: 5 implications if LeBron James joins Western Conference

By Rob Wolkenbrod
OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 12: A close up shot of LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Five of the 2017 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors on June 12, 2017 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 12: A close up shot of LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Five of the 2017 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors on June 12, 2017 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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San Antonio Spurs, CLEVELAND, OH – MARCH 31: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers pauses on the court during the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Quicken Loans Arena on March 31, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs, CLEVELAND, OH – MARCH 31: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers pauses on the court during the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Quicken Loans Arena on March 31, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

If LeBron James joins the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs might be in trouble.

The San Antonio Spurs already have roadblocks ahead in the Western Conference. It starts with the Golden State Warriors. They represented the West in the past three NBA Finals, with wins in 2015 and 2017. Golden State also swept San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals.

The Houston Rockets are another potential problem. They added star point guard Chris Paul in the offseason, who will team with James Harden to form a lethal backcourt.

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves added Paul George and Jimmy Butler, respectively. Both teams should be top-flight foes this season.

That’s all for 2017-18. For the 2018-19 season, it’s already being looked at. Bleacher Report’s Peter Vecsey reported that LeBron James is a good bet to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2018 offseason.

LeBron James definitively leaving Cavaliers for Lakers after this season. Today's exclusive column https://t.co/MnaPpaFUJh

— Peter Vecsey (@PeterVecsey1) September 16, 2017

If true, James will join a loaded Western Conference, with the Spurs’ task of reaching the NBA Finals even more difficult. It depends on who joins him in Los Angeles, but since 2011, the Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals has been King James.

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There’s little doubt San Antonio would be impacted by this move. It strengthens the roadblock to success in the Western Conference, with an abundance of superteams at the top. Things could look different by 2018 and not include this historic transaction, but if there’s the current incarnation of the Warriors and a James-led team in Los Angeles, then issues will arise for the team in the Alamo City.

A Western Conference with LeBron would be the first time this has happened. It’s bound to leave long-lasting implications on all 15 teams, along with the Spurs and whatever will be next for them. What could this be? Will it impact the 2018 offseason plans for the franchise?

Next: Player options

HOUSTON, TX – MAY 11: Danny Green #14 and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs high five each other during the game against the Houston Rockets during Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 11, 2017 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX – MAY 11: Danny Green #14 and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs high five each other during the game against the Houston Rockets during Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 11, 2017 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

5. If players exercise 2018 options, it’s a worst-case scenario

The San Antonio Spurs have four players with contract options for the 2018-19 season: LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green, Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne. If they all choose to leave, the Spurs will open around $40 million in cap space. That doesn’t factor in Tony Parker’s expiring contract of $15 million.

However, there’s a doomsday scenario for the Spurs. The possibility is there for Aldridge, Green, Gay, and Lauvergne to opt-in for 2018-19. If so, it removes any chance of them acquiring a big name in free agency, at least before moving to trade scenarios.

With the top players available in free agency (more on that later), the Spurs would have the money to go after at least one of them. It will take a reconstruction of the roster, but to match what the Lakers do with LeBron James, it should be worth it.

If the players with options all stick around, then the roster will look almost identical to 2017-18. Of course, that season hasn’t started. Compared to other teams and how the NBA is trending, it’s not the superstar-laden squad that everyone else is trying to build. The past three seasons have seen superteams make the NBA Finals. It technically dates back to 2008, when the Boston Celtics won it all.

The Spurs still found success in this era, even without being dubbed a superteam. However, the NBA is changing and so is this current roster. It might need a big name to team with Kawhi Leonard and be what everyone expected out of Aldridge when he signed in 2015.

Next: Spurs must sign one superstar

4. If not, the Spurs must sign at least one superstar

To pick up on the last point, if those players leave in free agency, cap space will be abundant. That opens a spot for a superstar to join the fight against the super Lakers.

The following big names will be available in 2018 free agency:

  • Paul Goerge
  • Russell Westbrook
  • DeMarcus Cousins
  • Isaiah Thomas
  • Chris Paul
  • DeAndre Jordan
  • Avery Bradley

Do any of them stand a chance? George has the tampering ties to Los Angeles, while Westbrook played his college ball at UCLA. Paul hasn’t played for the Rockets yet, but he’s already on a superteam. Would he leave to join another one?

That leaves Cousins, Thomas, Jordan, and Bradley as the next-best available players. Adding Boogie should be the focus, especially if Aldridge departs. The center and power forward positions are old in San Antonio and can use an upgrade. Cousins, by far, provides that, except on a massive contract that the Spurs aren’t famous for giving out on the open market.

Bradley makes sense as a second-tier signing. He provides the All-Star-caliber defense the Spurs love on the perimeter. It will come at a price, but as an offensive upgrade over Green.

With Patty Mills’ deal, Thomas can be ruled out, for now. Injury issues are a question, as well.

Jordan is a defensive force and provides some offense. He’s a liability on jump-shooting and free throws, which could be a turn-off for the organization.

The options are there to build a team around Leonard. Other quality players will be available, which the Spurs should be after, to make this a strong contender and the next superteam.

Next: Lakers will be the desired team

3. Lakers will be the most desired landing spot

The San Antonio Spurs should get a handful of takers in the 2018 offseason, if for legacy alone. However, with LeBron on the Lakers, it poses a dangerous problem, not just for the Spurs but anyone who targets a superstar: Los Angeles will be the desired option.

That’s not a “breaking news” tidbit. If the best player in the world is on an organization with openings, others will flock there. That goes for veterans on minimum or cheaper deals (Hi, James Jones). Mike Miller did this on the Miami Heat in the early 2010’s and Kyle Korver re-signed after the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired him before the Trade Deadline.

With the Lakers having open cap space (Brook Lopez’s $22 million will be off the books), they should have the flexibility to get a marquee name to team with James. That’s if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s contract officially comes off the books, Corey Brewer’s, and if the organization can find a taker for Jordan Clarkson and Luol Deng on their two years remaining.

If Magic Johnson becomes a wizard and finds teams willing to take these contracts, especially Deng’s bloated deal, he’ll open the checkbook for someone like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. They might need to take lesser contracts to join the Lakers (or if LeBron takes a smaller contract), but if the goal is to find the best landing spot to win, then this might be it.

Isola: LeBron's most logical landing spot is Lakers, but best avenue to NBA Finals is to stay in Eastern Conference https://t.co/URGPDa6rhR pic.twitter.com/3ZwyXT56yj

— NY Daily News Sports (@NYDNSports) August 16, 2017

That doesn’t include the popularity of Los Angeles itself. It’s Hollywood, with business opportunities abound and palm trees all around. It’s the glamorous lifestyle that some desired since they were children, or a desire to return home. If anyone wants this, it will be difficult for the Spurs to match it.

Next: Getting out of the semifinals

2. Difficult to get out of the playoffs

For the actual on-court part of this, the road will be difficult to get through the playoffs. Not only will the Lakers be an issue, but the Warriors who still have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green under long-term contracts. It will arguably be the strongest wall for any NBA team to break through.

The San Antonio Spurs have a decent chance at reaching the Western Conference Semifinals and playing the Lakers or Warriors. It’s either LeBron James’ superteam or a group of four of the NBA’s top players. Take your pick.

How the Spurs do hinges on their 2018 offseason success or failure. As noted, if players decline their options, money will be available to target players like DeMarcus Cousins and Avery Bradley. If these two are with Kawhi Leonard, then the Spurs stand a chance at keeping the series competitive, with an opportunity to reach the conference finals.

Must Read: 25 forgotten players that were on the Spurs

However, that means a likely date with the Warriors or Lakers for a trip to the NBA Finals. That’s a concern and might be too much to handle. San Antonio topping both teams would be historic, so it might take for help from another organization to get this done in the 2019 playoffs.

Next: Longshot observation

1. What if LeBron James becomes a Spur?

Let’s get this out of the way. LeBron James on the San Antonio Spurs is a far-fetched idea and something that’s difficult to imagine happening, even if the team has cap space. Frankly, predicting his next move is almost impossible.

However. if San Antonio has the cash and James chooses to depart Cleveland, how can you rule at least the discussion of this happening?

James and Leonard as a one-two punch at the wing positions is an offensive and defensive nightmare. They’re two lengthy players that can play multiple positions, with James’ ability to arguably play anywhere. Put these two on any team’s two best players and watch them get shut down.

LeBron on the Spurs makes them an instant favorite to at least bring a series with the Warriors to seven games and contend for the NBA championship. They would be the newest superteam in the Western Conference, with immense upside to do damage in the 2018-19 season. Pieces can be added around them, including the already-contracted players (Patty Mills, Pau Gasol, Dejounte Murray) to form a lethal squad. It has the potential to be a top-two team in the league.

Must Read: 25 forgotten players that were on the Spurs

This is a scenario that you can salivate at on NBA 2K18. It’s at least enticing, right?

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