Published On: Wed, Feb 28th, 2018

4 teams not named the Cavs that have a real chance of signing LeBron

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One day, a Southeast Pennsylvania home remodeling company is buying billboards in Cleveland aimed at getting LeBron James to sign with the 76ers, and the next, LeBron is reportedly checking out schools in Philadelphia.

It’s a crazy business, this NBA free agency, even when James isn’t actually a free agent yet. This summer’s LeBron sweepstakes promise fireworks, but the truth of the matter is there are only a handful of teams outside of the incumbent Cleveland Cavaliers that have a legitimate shot at landing the face of the league – based on some logical factors.

Those realities include salary cap space, quality of roster going forward, and other intangibles. For instance, the Atlanta Hawks will have ample cap space this summer. You also have a better chance of seeing a horse piloting an aircraft than you do James joining the Hawks.

Here are the teams, outside of the Cavs:

Philadelphia 76ers

No, this isn’t just Joel Embiid dreaming. The 76ers have an outside chance at attracting LeBron based on their young talent alone. Of the logical contenders, the Sixers also have the easiest path to clearing the necessary cap space to offer James a max deal.

Related: LeBron flattered by ‘dope’ billboards aimed to lure him to 76ers

Moving Robert Covington‘s contract might be necessary, but beyond that, Embiid is the only Sixer slated to make more than $8.6 million next season. Pairing James with a younger prototype of himself in Ben Simmons, while perhaps teaching him how to shoot from outside? That’s breathtaking.

On the other hand, LeBron turns 34 in December. How much of a time investment in a very young team would he be willing to consider?

Los Angeles Lakers

The running joke at the trade deadline was that by trading Isaiah Thomas‘ expiring contract to the Lakers in the Jordan ClarksonLarry Nance Jr. deal, the Cavs actually gave L.A. the cap space to sign LeBron this summer. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but the idea of the Lakers signing both James and Paul George has been rumored for months.

Such a double coup would require the Lakers to renounce restricted free agent Julius Randle. Landing George as well would probably be the best pot sweetener to get LeBron in purple and gold, given that the young Lakers roster has a lower ceiling than Philadelphia’s is.

At the end of the day, it’s Los Angeles, with all the side action that goes along with it. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ co-tenant Clippers are reportedly not expecting LeBron to consider them amid longtime rumors that he would never suit up for the franchise.

Houston Rockets

Houston represents one of the most intriguing potential destinations for LeBron, but making it happen would be extremely difficult. The Rockets’ rigid cap situation this summer is compounded by the fact that unrestricted free agent Chris Paul has a $39-million cap hold before he’s either signed or renounced.

Any intention James has of forming a south-coast superteam in Houston would almost assuredly include his close friend Paul, however. But even if one half of the Banana Boat crew were able to work out a creative signing timetable, the Rockets would still need to shed contracts such as Ryan Anderson‘s.

The fascinating aspect of this would be seeing LeBron play alongside Paul and James Harden. While that may feel like one primary ball-handler too many, you would almost expect James to transition into a slightly different role: Easing up a bit on the scoring pedal next to Harden and playing more power forward as he did with the Miami Heat.

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs have signed a grand total of one top-tier free agent in their recent history: LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015. San Antonio is far from the NBA’s glitziest market, but no franchise has enjoyed such steady leadership and prolonged success over the last three decades.

That alone earns the Spurs respect in all corners of the league, and some felt Gregg Popovich’s recent kind words about James’ cultural impact was at least partly a recruiting effort.

The trouble with this long shot is that the Spurs’ cap sheet is even less flexible than that of the Rockets, with $78 million in guaranteed contracts on the books next season. That’s where creative daydreaming enters the fray, however: Kawhi Leonard‘s ongoing injury drama included.

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