The superstar has agreed to 4-year, US$154 million deal which is likely to create a new contender in the NBA's Western Conference.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on July 2, 2018

James had been widely tipped to join the Los Angeles Lakers, where he can continue to develop business interests such as his media venture, Uninterrupted, in one of the nation’s largest markets.

The move will almost certainly bring to an end a run of four successive NBA finals which saw James’ former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, meet the Golden State Warriors on each occasion.

The length of the deal, the longest since he joined the Miami Heat in 2010, signals his intent to build a long-term contender in Los Angeles.

The Lakers have long been one of the NBA’s most glamorous free agency destinations. In addition to offering James the ability to write the next chapter of a remarkable career in the spotlight of Los Angeles, they have considerable cap space and the flexibility to remake their squad in line with their new star’s wishes.

The move comes after James made an emotional and unexpected return to his home state of Ohio in 2014. He led the outmatched Cavaliers to a stunning NBA Finals upset in 2016 but had seemingly grown frustrated in recent months at Cleveland’s inability to build a championship calibre supporting cast around him or to mount a credible challenge to the Golden State Warriors juggernaut.

His second stint in Cleveland also provided one of the sport’s most iconic moments in his chasedown block on Andre Iguodala. The block came at a crucial juncture late in the 2016 NBA Finals and provides some hint at the peerless basketballing instincts that fuels James’ greatness; in slow-motion footage of the play, he seemingly knows what the Warriors are doing before they do.

On an Instagram story, James wrote: “Thank you Northeast Ohio for an incredible 4 seasons. This will always be home.”

The 33-year-old James has been a 14-time NBA All Star and has averaged 27.15 points per game, the fourth-highest career average in league history. His all-around play has led some to suggest he is the greatest basketball player ever.

His outsized influence on the league’s balance of power can clearly be seen in the way betting odds have fluctuated with his movements. One bookmaker told ESPN that Cleveland’s championship odds if James stayed were 10-1. Without him, the odds blow out to 500-1. Similarly, the Lakers’ championship odds were slashed from 100-1 to 6-1 based solely on James moving there.

The first domino to fall in NBA free agency

James’ decision has profound ramifications for a number of teams around the league, particularly the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics, two youthful and fast-rising teams in the Eastern Conference who can now fight it out for a spot in the NBA Finals without the conference-dominating presence of LeBron James, who has guided his teams to the Finals in each of the last eight seasons.

The other main team affected is the San Antonio Spurs, who are looking to deal unhappy star Kawhi Leonard to the Lakers. After Paul George decided not to join the LA team, as had been widely predicted, the Lakers will now be more determined to land Leonard and ensure James is not a stranded superstar on its roster. The Lakers have a number of intriguing young players, including Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, that they may look to trade as they enter ‘win now’ mode.

The Toronto Raptors will also have been sweating on the superstar’s free agency. The Raptors finished first in the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season but suffered a humiliating 4-0 loss to James’ Cavaliers in the playoffs. The Canadian franchise fired NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey shortly after their exit and there was widespread speculation that it could completely dissemble its squad in the belief that it would never get past the roadblock posed by James. His move to the West changes all that immediately.

James’ last season in Cleveland will perhaps be best remembered for J.R Smith’s infamous blunder at the end of game one of the NBA Finals. With scores tied and 4.7 seconds left on the clock, Smith snaffled an offensive rebound and then proceeded to hare off from his own basket in the apparent belief that his team was ahead and he was protecting the lead. The Cavaliers never recovered; the Warriors won that game in overtime and then rolled to a 4-0 series win.