Grab your popcorn and take a seat. It’s time to dive really deep. No, not a deep search into your soul like a therapist would have you take. Instead, let me pick at your basketball brain for a second. I want to take you on a fantasy journey that Game of Thrones couldn’t compete with (that’s a stretch but I need you to stick with me).
The year is 2050. The once-great LeBron James now owns the Sacramento Kings and is the head of basketball operations in Sactown. I would love to tell you that the Kings have won a championship, but I don’t think we’re allowed to tell tall tales here at Def Pen. Considering LeBron is in charge of this whole shebang, we can easily rule out a championship. This is a no-brainer in my opinion. They may have a handful of playoff wins, even some Finals appearances, but they have yet to win an NBA championship.
Let me explain.
If we follow the narrative that LeBron is in charge of deciding which player is on “his” team, there’s no way that he could sustain long-term excellence as a GM. As a player, James forces his general managers to make short-sighted decisions that ultimately lead to the team’s imminent downfall. Take, for example, when the Cavaliers traded away first-round pick Andrew Wiggins for the veteran Kevin Love. At the time, it seemed like a prudent move that put the Cavs in the best place for success. But, three years later, people are questioning the trade. Granted, Wiggins is still developing and has not proved that he is worthy of his (potential) upcoming max contract. It is, though, a bit hard to argue too heavily for Kevin Love given his inconsistencies in the playoffs.
Love’s erratic playoff behavior has created new doubts about his performance. Critics are quick to point towards the lamentable trade that brought him to Cleveland. It’s become difficult to argue for the trade as we watch the 22-year-old Wiggins grow every year while Kevin Love staggers and takes steps backward. But LeBron needed to win, so David Griffin made it happen. Now, the Cavaliers are beginning the downward spiral to mediocrity.
Another example is when The King coaxed David Griffin into signing his buddies, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith, to contracts that are still disputed a year, or two years, later. In 2015, the Cavs signed Thompson to a five-year, $82 million dollar contract. Then, in 2016, they signed J.R. Smith to a four-year, $57 million dollar contract. Both of these deals were a shock to the basketball world because nobody valued Thompson or Smith that highly, not even the organization. Clearly, though, someone did (hint: it was LeBron).
It’s difficult to argue in favor of those contracts. Thompson is an undersized center and, like Kevin Love, has at times been shaky in the playoffs. Tristan’s sporadic and patchy play is concerning because he is supposed to be the Cavs’ center for the future. But how is he supposed to fill that role if he can’t perform on the biggest stage of the playoffs?
J.R. Smith is a completely different story, though. In 2016, the league was drunk off of a salary cap spike that caused teams to sign role players to ridiculous contracts. 2016 was the year that Harrison Barnes was signed to a four-year max contract. I still get chills when I hear the words “Harrison Barnes” and “max contract” in the same sentence. Naturally, Smith saw Barnes sign a lucrative deal, so he thought, “Hey, if he can get a max contract, I should be paid fairly too.”
The 2016 offseason was when LeBron signed his three-year, $100 million dollar contract, but he was obviously rooting for J.R. the whole way through. James and J.R. were together quite a bit after J.R. signed his big contract, which may or may not correlate with LeBron having influence over the contract that Smith would receive. Stay with me on this.
LeBron was “keeping an eye” on his guy, because he didn’t want him to slip up. Why? Yes, he cares about his teammates, but what if it went deeper than basketball and LeBron is playing the game to his benefit? Think about it. If J.R. messes up and LeBron vouched for him and his contract, David Griffin immediately goes to LeBron and starts questioning his player-GM tactics. Then, questions surrounding his GM capabilities could haunt LeBron even after his playing career is over.
Then, when he becomes the Kings’ general manager, LeBron signs a non-star player with a history of partying to a big contract. He then has to babysit the player and make sure he stays out of trouble, or else he receives ridicule for his decisions.
That is all fine and dandy, but what happens when the guys you vouched for don’t show up in crunch time? You then want to find new players to replace the old ones, but you realize you can’t afford the new guys because the old guys are making too much money. Continuing with our small sample size and old narrative, LeBron would be stuck in this vicious cycle as a GM.
But why should he care if he botched the financial stability of the team he once loved? He can simply skip to another team whenever he wants to. I mean, that’s why he signs the one-year deals in the first place, and it’s why he has yet to deny the multitude of rumors out there about him leaving Cleveland next summer. When he’s a GM, he can’t just jump to another team. He has to live with the mistakes that he makes, as Vlade Divac has.
Now, I’m not saying that we should completely dismiss the idea of LeBron becoming a good GM. He clearly has a mind for basketball and is always thinking two steps ahead of everybody else. And he’ll connect with young stars easily because he’s LeBron freakin’ James.
Those moves, man. If we’re still following the narrative (and I am) that LeBron James is the functioning GM of whatever team he is on, then why are we seriously entertaining his managerial future in the first place?
Maybe he should go the Jerry West route and stick to being an advisor.