Welcome to another Summer of LeBron.
(And don’t argue that summer technically hasn’t started yet. Summer goes from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, regardless of what the calendar might tell you).
Summers of LeBron James are seemingly on a World Cup schedule. The first one was in 2010, when James announced he was “taking his talents to South Beach” and joined the Heat.
After appearing in four NBA Finals — with two titles — LeBron then had his second summer in 2014, culminating with a return to Cleveland.
And now after four more finals berths — all against the Warriors, with one more title — we’ve reached the third and possibly last real Summer of LeBron in 2018.
James can opt out of his contract and become a free agent, a scenario that seems likely. Or he can stay with the Cavaliers, which seems plausible. Or he can opt-in on his contract with the intent of having the Cavaliers trade him — something Cleveland might be amenable to given they stand to get nothing in return if LeBron simply leaves as a free agent.
At first blush, all of this would appear to have very little to do with the Timberwolves. But there are some factors that could, in fact, make the Summer of LeBron have a local impact. Let’s examine some likely outcomes and impacts:
*Dream scenario: OK, so the dream scenario is that LeBron somehow winds up on the Timberwolves. This is far-fetched because of the Wolves’ salary constraints and about 47 other things, but James could do far worse than to join Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and co.
But let’s not spend too much time on that pipe dream. Instead, let’s go to …
*Realistic best-case scenario: OK, a bunch of teams think they have a shot at James. Those teams have already been maneuvering to put themselves in position to land him, but some of them would still need to create a ton of cap space to accommodate James. Among them: Houston, which dispatched the Wolves in the first round of the playoffs this year.
The trickle-down effect of that is that a lot of good players from good teams could be let go cheap — either on salary dump trades or as free agents — in the pursuit of James. Teams that whiff on James might then turn to Paul George and other big-money free agents.
The NBA salary cap, after a rapid rise in recent years, is only projected to go up $2 million from last year to next year. If the Wolves can be nimble and wait for the market to come to them, they might be able to add quality depth at reasonable prices.
*Worst-case scenario: James and George go to the Lakers, who are in position to painlessly add two max contracts without having to dump salary.
That would negate the likelihood of a trickle-down impact on the Wolves’ roster while instantly making the Lakers a title contender. That, in turn, would create another top-notch Western Conference foe — one that didn’t make the playoffs last year — against which the Wolves would be jockeying for position.