LeBron James is one loss away from another offseason full of speculation. Speculation surrounding an uncertain future.
James holds a $35.6 million player option with the Cavaliers for next season, as he faces a late-June deadline for that decision. If he opts out — as many expect him to do — he’ll become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
With the overmatched Cavaliers trailing the Warriors 3-0 in the NBA Finals, just one loss separates James from the start of an offseason that could shape the final chapter of his NBA career.
What will James do — stay in Cleveland or try to build a superteam elsewhere to compete with Golden State? We should know that answer within the next six weeks, but James offered a look into his thinking during his off-day Finals press conference on Thursday.
Here it is, unedited and in its entirety …
“Yeah, that’s the challenge in this league,” James said of the task of beating the Warriors. “I think every GM and every president and every coaching staff is trying to figure out how they can make up the right matchups to compete for a championship and win a championship. Like you said before, I felt like my first stint here I just didn’t have the level of talent to compete versus the best teams in the NBA, let alone just Boston. When you looked at (Rajon) Rondo and KG and Paul (Pierce) and Ray, you knew they were great basketball players. But not only great basketball players, you could see their minds were in it, too, when you were playing them. They were calling out sets. Rondo was calling out sets every time you come down. It was like, OK, this is bigger than basketball. So not only do you have to have the talent, you have to have the minds as well. I knew that my talent level here in Cleveland couldn’t succeed getting past a Boston, getting past the San Antonios of the league or whatever the case may be. I played with D-Wade, I played with Bosh in the Olympics. I knew D-Wade for years. I knew their minds. I knew how they thought the game, more than just playing the game. Obviously, we all knew their talent, but I knew their minds as well. So I linked up with them. We went to Miami. Got some other great minds in Mike Miller; UD (Udonis Haslem) is a great mind but also a competitor. And guys that were talents. You build that talent. That’s what you want to try to do. Then you come here. I knew Kyrie, having the talent, I wanted to try to build his mind up to fast track his mind because I felt like in order to win you’ve got to have talent, but you’ve got to be very cerebral too. Listen, we’re all NBA players. Everybody knows how to put the ball in the hoop. But who can think throughout the course of the game? This is so challenging for me to sit up here and say because people who really don’t know the game don’t really know what I’m talking about. They just think that you go out, and, Oh, LeBron, you’re bigger and faster and stronger than everybody, you should drive every single time and you should dunk every single play and you should never get tired, never. Like it’s a video game and you went on the options and you turned down fatigue all the way to zero and injuries all the way down to zero. So we come back here and we get the minds and we build a championship team. And then Golden State, because of Steph’s injuries early on in his career and his contract situation, and then them drafting Draymond and drafting Klay and them being under the contracts they were in, allowed their franchise to go out to get K.D. So they win a championship. Then we play them and we come back from 3-1 and we beat them. But that was the best regular season — probably the best team I had ever played against. They go 73-9, and then you add one of the best players that the NBA has ever seen. So now everyone is trying to figure that out. How do you put together a group of talent but also a group of minds to be able to compete with Golden State, to be able to compete for a championship? That’s what GMs and presidents and certain players — it’s not every player. Every player does not want to — sad to say, but every player doesn’t want to compete for a championship and be in a position where every possession is pressure.”
Whether James decides to stay in Cleveland or move to another team, it’s obvious he’s looking to be part of a roster that’s built to beat Golden State next season. The Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Rockets, Sixers, Lakers, Cavaliers, Heat, Spurs, Warriors and Celtics as the most likely potential destinations for James this offseason.