by Justin Carter
The Miami Heat are pretty good. How good would the rest of the league be if they had LeBron? I’m inserting him into every team’s starting lineup to find out. (Note: to make this easier, I’m using the lineups from the end of the season & assuming everyone who gets hurt in real life gets hurt in fake LeBron Land.)
Am I giving LeBron too much credit? Maybe, but look at the Cavs drop off after he left– one player can make a big difference.
Atlanta made the playoffs this year despite finishing 38-44, and they took the Pacers to seven in the first round. While the upset would have probably ranked below the 2011 Seahawks (7-9) beat the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the first round, it still would have been impressive.
What would LeBron have changed about the Hawks? Well, for starters, he gets DeMarre Carroll out of their starting lineup. Full disclosure here– I didn’t know Carroll was still in the NBA. I remember him mostly as a throw-in from the Battier to Memphis trade & assumed he’d be playing in Europe by now. So, congrats DeMarre! Carroll started 73 games for the Hawks & put up a career best 11/5, but he’s no LBJ– I’m going to say that this team probably gets a top-four seed in the East. I’m pretty sure LeBron with the 2011 Bobcats could be top-four in this year’s East.
For the purposes of this, I’m assuming LeBron just slides into each team via magical cost-free free agency & the rest of the team is exactly the same.
So, Jeff Green moves to the sixth man role, with a lot of small ball lineups that put James at the four. Brandon Bass loses playing time, which is probably a good thing. Boston probably avoids the lottery, but Rondo & James silently feud, leading to a disjointed team losing in the first round, right? Can you see those two coexisting?
Here’s the first team that probably wins a title with LeBron, since we’re living in a money-free world where they get to keep all their vets. James helps Paul Pierce gets to rest more, & the Nets could potentially run this lineup(s): Garnett/Plumlee (yes, an aging KG is still an issue, so Plumlee would give him a breather), James, Pierce, Johnson, Williams. That’s a dangerous team with a LOT of experience. Factor in the extra energy for Pierce, & the Nets are a team without many holes.
Good: MKG gets to play less & jack up less bad shots. Other good: Jefferson/James would be fun together. Bad: They aren’t getting past the Pacers.
Remember, in this scenario Rose is still out, & we’re still assuming Luol Deng gets traded. Yes, I know this doesn’t make sense.
LeBron makes the Bulls even better defensively, but they’ve still got a playoff backcourt of Hinrich/Butler, & I know Jimmy Butler is good, but I can’t fully trust this team. Plus, SHADOW OF JORDAN becomes a thing & LeBron might remember the days when he wasn’t a great closer? This last part probably isn’t very realistic, but I’m going with it.
The dream that all Cavs fans are hoping for, except it comes a year (or two) earlier than they were expecting, with a team that still needs some work. Is having Kyrie & LeBron going to be fun? Sure! & Luol Deng (who still ends up in Cleveland at the deadline) adds a nice wrinkle to this team, but I’m not sold on them being able to compete for a title. Waiters & Thompson are uneven, & they aren’t getting much from the bench (HI ANTHONY BENNETT I SEE YOU THERE). Except, I can totally see Jarrett Jack & Anderson Varejao turning it up a level with LeBron on this team & Spencer Hawes, offensively at least, can play the Chris Bosh role (though he can’t defensively). It’s a good team, but I’m going to stick with “not a championship team.”
Very fun team. Will get way up-tempo. LeBron helps their defensive woes, but the West is strong & they aren’t getting by San Antonio or OKC.
Okay, seriously though– it’s a good fit, with Ellis filling the 2014 Wade/Allen role (guy who can hit threes) with more athleticism, Dirk stretching the court, & Marion playing the Battier. Championship team? Maybe.
Golden State Warriors
Essentially fills the Iggy role but better & let’s Iggy fill the sixth man role. Probably title contenders. Defensive can’t play Curry as tight & he cements a spot as the league’s most deadly shooter.
Howard/James/Parsons/Harden/Beverley. Before the Portland series, I call that a championship team & move on, but I’ve lost my faith in Chandler, Harden hasn’t been great in the postseason, & the bench still has issues. I don’t know. I want this team to be title contenders, & I think I’m overthinking it a little (I MEAN I’M WRITING ABOUT HOW EVERY NBA TEAM HAVING LEBRON SO YES I AM OVERTHINKING SOME THINGS), but the supporting cast isn’t perfect. Then again, maybe LeBron & Dwight just spend 48 minutes dominating in the post & kicking it out to Harden or a wide open Troy Daniels. Maybe this is the team Morey has been trying to put together since Yao retired.
Does LeBron play in round one after the Sterling news? Okay, yeah– he does. Chris Paul = LeBron not having to be the primary creator on his team for once = more open shots = this is a very good team with a great shot of coming out of the West. Do they win a title?
It’s a shame that this hypothetical still includes an injured Kobe. This Lakers team is just– bad. Does LeBron improve them? Sure, but the West is crowded. Mark this down as the first “LeBron doesn’t lead them to the playoffs,” though it’d be close– probably 9th in the West. This team wasn’t making the playoffs even with a healthy Kobe this year, & even though LeBron is the superior player– I don’t see it happening.
A strong team gets stronger. Not getting past the Spurs (or will they?), but the IRL Grizz almost beat OKC, so I’ll go ahead & predict that the LeBron version would beat them.
They get a second LeBron? I don’t know. I assume they keep their LeBron & the playoffs go the same way they are now.
East is bad, but the Bucks– I don’t see it happening, LBJ dragging them to the playoffs. (But hey, him & the Alphabet on the same team = HI SC Top 10.)
Better fit than I expected. Getting tired of writing this. Playoff team & Kevin Love sticks around longer. Rubio still can’t shoot.
New Orleans Pelicans
They still make the same trades to get the same disappointing backcourt & Anthony Davis still gets hurt & derails a potential second round appearance. Pelicans lose in round one, but Davis/James will look good going forward.
New York Knicks
I don’t know if Melo/LBJ is a good fit, but I’m leaning towards no. Promising team on paper, but hypothetical games played on a blog are hypothetically not played on paper & the Knicks are the Knicks & they somehow fuck this up.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Ibaka injury still happens. I’m trying to figure out what kind of lineup they’d use pre-injury, though– would Ibaka have to play center? Or come off the bench? Or does LeBron have to play the 2? Post-Ibaka injury, LeBron slides in at the 4 & this team doesn’t lose a playoff game. Fit is weird, but you’d have the two best players in the NBA on the same team, something that’s probably never happened (maybe Russell/Cousy? Kobe/Shaq would count if they’d imploded a little later), so you’ll find a way to make it work. Step one: fire Scottie Brooks.
LeBron isn’t dragging the Magic into the playoffs, is he? Probably not. He’s also pulling a Dwight as soon as the season ends.
Another team that, as constructed, LeBron isn’t going anywhere with, though Hinkie does everything different if he has that superstar, right? Except we’re pretending nothing is done differently. So, maybe they end up 10th in the East? Maybe LeBron takes touches away from MCW & he doesn’t win ROY? Maybe they push Nerlens to play his rookie year?
Sleeper for the title? This was a strong team all season. They played hard & Goran Dragic seems to have made a small leap (remember when Houston let him go for Jeremy Lin? Remember when the reason they let him go was that they didn’t want to give him a player option & lose flexibility? Remember when this move probably wouldn’t have effected the Harden/Howard moves?). LeBron pushes them into the playoffs. They probably end up at 4, play a tough Rockets team in round one, then get to match up with the Spurs in a series that San Antonio probably wins, but it would be close– the Spurs just have so much firepower, & this Suns team doesn’t have the talent around LeBron that the Heat do.
Portland Trail Blazers
This is the team that initially got me thinking about this question. I was at a bar the other night & overheard a guy saying LeBron needs to go to Portland. This guy seemed pretty sure that the Blazers had the cap space to make this happen without getting rid of anyone.
Memo: They can’t.
Still, this would be a good fit for LeBron.
Maybe he takes the last shot against Houston & misses it instead of letting Lillard drain that three.
San Antonio Spurs
Pop rubs his hands together maniacally. LeBron collects a handful of DNP-Coaches Decision & DNP-Fake Illness. Come playoff time, Duncan moves to the 5, LeBron goes in at the 4, & the Spurs play the best small ball lineup in history. They sweep the Pacers in the Finals. Duncan plays five more years.
Am I still doing this? First round exit, because Canada isn’t good at basketball, & LeBron will follow T-Mac, Vince Carter, & Chris Bosh in the “we aren’t playing for Toronto anymore” wagon.
West is strong. I keep saying that. I think Trey Burke is too raw for this team to compete for a playoff spot, even with LeBron, but I could be wrong.
I’m probably wrong. Gordon Hayward played well this season (note: I had both Hayward & Burke on my fantasy team this year. I also had Kevin Durant & LeBron James. I didn’t win my fantasy league) & there’s potential for a playoff spot.
I just typed up a parody of Rick Perry’s “Strong” video & then deleted it. Anyway– Wizards are a good team for the first time in a long time. This lineup– Gortat/ Nene/ LBJ/ Beal/ Wall, with Ariza as your primary sixth man– that’s a solid as hell lineup, if that front court can play as well as they did in the real world. This team is a good mix of youngsters & vets, but long term you’d probably worry about putting so much faith in Nene & Ariza (though Ariza may be gone next year anyway.)
Which Team Is The Best?
It’s a toss up between the Spurs & Thunder. James fits better in San Antonio & Pop is the better coach, but the Thunder would have the two best basketball players on the planet. I think I’m going with OKC here.