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NBA Free Agency Reaction: LeBron James To The Lakers


Oh boy. It's happened -- LeBron James has left the Cleveland Cavaliers and joined the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2010, his free agency destination was announced on an ESPN special. In 2014, it was announced in a Sports Illustrated article. In 2018? This tweet from LeBron's agent:

There's a ton of consequences stemming from this move. The Eastern Conference is now wide open and a team without LeBron will represent it for the first time since 2010. The Western Conference continues to get more difficult. Kawhi Leonard could be traded any moment now...or not, because LeBron didn't base this decision on the Lakers having to bring in another star unlike his last free agency decisions.

There's also a lot of fantasy basketball consequences for both the Lakers and LeBron's former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Let's break down how the different pieces on those teams are affected by Decision 3.0.

 

The Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James

James is honestly the most boring part of this signing to talk about in fantasy terms because he's LeBron James. We know what he's going to be. If the Lakers go into the season as currently constructed, we can expect numbers close to the classic LeBron line -- 27 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists per game. With a gifted passer in Lonzo Ball beside him, LeBron can play off the ball more and his assists numbers won't be inching near double-digits like they were this year, but it would be shocking to see him average anything fewer than six per game seeing as his career-low came his rookie season when he averaged 5.9 assists. His rebounding numbers tend to fluctuate, but the Lakers finished second in the NBA in rebounds per game last season, so James won't need to produce a Herculean effort there. He'll be the focal point of the offense,  but I'd be surprised to see him up around the 29 or 30 point per game mark since he hasn't done that since the last season of his first run in Cleveland.

What could change this outlook? The Lakers trading for Kawhi Leonard, a top five player when healthy and someone who will take a lot of stress off of James. With all due respect to Dwyane Wade, Leonard would be the best player that James has played with and it wouldn't be a shock to see LeBron's scoring drop into the mid-20s as the Lakers look to keep him fresh for the playoffs.

Lonzo Ball

The Lakers were 24-28 last season when Lonzo Ball played. Despite all the hoopla around Ball and his father's attempts to monetize the Ball family, he's a good, young player. There were rumors that James wanted to play off the ball more and Lonzo Ball has the passing skills to allow that to happen.

Ball averaged 7.2 assists per game during his rookie season after averaging 7.6 in his one year at UCLA. Pairing his passing with LeBron's passing is going to make the Lakers offense hum. If you need a player who'll put up a ton of assists in fantasy, Lonzo Ball can be that guy.

There are two things that Ball struggled immensely with as a rookie -- he shot just 30.5 percent from three on 5.7 attempts per game, and he shot just 45.1 percent from the free throw line. If he can't fix his shooting woes, he'll only have his maximum value on teams that are punting one (or both) of those categories, and he also won't be able to be effective when playing off the ball. His college numbers suggest that we saw Ball at his worst as a shooter last season.

The Lakers Bigs

Not counting Julius Randle, a restricted free agent who is rumored to not want to return to Los Angeles, the Lakers have the following players under contract who can play at the four or the five: Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac, Moritz Wagner, and uhh...Brandon Ingram played power forward eight percent of the time last year? (Edit: And, as you'll see at the end of this section, another guy who was signed after I wrote everything else!)

Figuring out the bigs rotation for L.A. is going to be tricky. They could bring back Brook Lopez, who started 72 games for the team last year, but as a scoring-first center whose raw scoring and per 36 scoring stats dropped last year his role wouldn't be conducive to the Lakers playing their best basketball, and his lack of rebounding coupled with what will probably be a second consecutive season of his scoring numbers going down makes it difficult to trust him in fantasy.

Randle is a good player and if we ignore the whispers that he doesn't want to be a Laker, he's a good rebounder and scorer near the basket who has the potential to be a top 50 fantasy option, though that potential might best be fulfilled elsewhere.

Wagner is a rookie. He projects to be an interesting player and can stretch the floor from the center position, but I don't think he gets a ton of playing time right off the bat.

Kuzma had a strong rookie season and as of now will be the team's starting power forward, but he's already landed in the Kawhi Leonard trade talk. He's also a guy who played three years for Utah in college and might already be close to his peak. Last year, Kuzma averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. It's hard to imagine him picking up the rebounding load if Randle leaves and he doesn't have the size to slide down to the five, so expect the Lakers to look outside the organization for a big who can rebound the ball and play center. Maybe they'll look at a guy who is also signed to Rich Paul's Klutch Sports Group? A guy who hasn't reached his potential yet and should come for pretty cheap? A guy named Nerlens Noel?

Scratch that last part. The Lakers brought in JaVale McGee according to ESPN's Chris Haynes. McGee is the kind of center who is going to be fun to see with LeBron James, but his minutes will fluctuate by the matchup and he probably isn't worth more than a late round flyer in fantasy.

Oh, The Lakers Just Signed Lance Stephenson

As I was getting ready to submit this, Shams Charania broke the news that Lance Stephenson will be coming to the Lakers. Stephenson as a teammate to LeBron James is weird, and at this point he doesn't feel like much more than a depth signing for a team that also signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and has some talented young players like Ingram and Josh Hart.

Or this is a precursor to something bigger. Either way, Lance Stephenson isn't on my fantasy radar right now

 

The Cleveland Cavaliers

Everything below can become obsolete if Cleveland decides to radically shake up their roster, but here's how things are looking right now:

Kevin Love

Let's operate under the assumption that the post-LeBron Cavaliers do what the post-LeBron Miami Heat did, which is try to run the rest of the team back and make the playoffs. In this year's Eastern Conference, Kevin Love might be enough to get that team there.

The big question is this: are we about to get Minnesota Love back? Here are his career stats:

Can Kevin Love still be the guy who averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds? His per 36 stats suggest that he might be able to if Cleveland makes him the focal point of the offense, but Love's injury history -- not counting his rookie year, he's never played more than 77 games in a season and has played 60 and 59 the last two years -- lowers his value. There's a path for Love to be a top 20 fantasy guy, but that path is tenuous.

Collin Sexton

Another LeBron free agency and another rookie point guard who really wanted to play with LeBron (Shabazz Napier in Miami) and is now left without him. Sexton, Cleveland's first round pick out of Alabama, is a talented kid, but he's going to be more valuable in dynasty formats than in re-draft, where he'll be brought along slowly behind George Hill. If Sexton can become more than just a scorer and develop some better playmaking skills, James leaving could allow Cleveland to bring him along a little faster, accelerating his growth and making him more valuable in 2019-2020, when most of George Hill's contract isn't guaranteed and Sexton could take over as the team's starting point guard. My conclusion: trending up in dynasty, but not moving the needle in re-draft.

Cedi Osman

Is Cedi Osman the starting small forward for Cleveland now? Maybe! He started 12 games for Cleveland last season and shot the ball fairly well, but his low usage and low minutes make him a tough player to project. He could be a good player to grab late in the hopes that he can beat out Jeff Green for the starting role.

The Old Lakers

Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. are still Cavaliers! They'll likely see a bunch of minutes this year and despite their, umm, struggles in the playoffs, both guys should see their fantasy value increase. Clarkson is a volume shooter who can fill up possessions for Cleveland and Nance is the kind of athletic player who can put up numbers at the five in the current NBA. Are either of them "good" players? That term is tricky to define and ultimately meaningless! They're guys who are going to be drafted outside the top 100 but will have decent upside.




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