The Golden State Warriors have jumped out to a commanding 2-0 series lead in the NBA Finals led by Steph Curry's exceptional three point shooting. After surviving a Game 1 scare, the Warriors cruised in Game 2 and outclassed Cleveland in every aspect of the game. At this point in the series, Golden State only has to win two out of the next five games in order to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy once again. With Curry on fire and the obvious talent gap between the two teams, it seems as if another Warriors championship is a forgone conclusion. Despite a predictable outcome, the remainder of this series could be crucial for the future of the NBA and have a substantial impact on LeBron James’ impending free agency decision this summer.
If the Cavs fail to protect their home court and get swept or lose in five games, it would be clear to LeBron and the rest of the league that Cleveland is nowhere near dethroning Golden State’s dynasty and would likely not have much of a chance next season with the same roster. If that were the case, it would give LeBron a good reason to leave the Cavs and join a team that would give him a better chance to win, especially in the Eastern Conference. By staying in the East, LeBron would avoid having to play the historically great Warriors in the Conference Finals, which would put a ninth straight Finals appearance at risk. The best option for LeBron in the East appears to be the Philadelphia 76ers, who have a promising future due to the emergence of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Adding LeBron to the team would likely make them the favorites in the East next season.
On the other hand, losing a close series could have a vastly different effect on where LeBron plays basketball next season. If the Cavs win both games at home and force the series to go six or seven games, LeBron might still believe that they can compete with the Warriors and convince himself that they aren’t that far away from bringing another championship to Cleveland. LeBron has always had a special relationship with his hometown team and city, and losing a close series would make it harder for him to walk away for a second time. In this scenario, it is possible that LeBron would sign another short-term deal with Cleveland to try to make one more run at a title and perhaps add another veteran scorer to the roster.
A competitive series could also bring about a situation where LeBron would leave Cleveland and join a team in the Western Conference. If that is the case, LeBron would feel as if the Warriors are beatable and would feel comfortable being in a position where he would likely face them in the Conference Finals. Perhaps this would open up the possibility of joining the LA Lakers, who have enough cap space to sign LeBron and another star player, such as Paul George. With the addition of LeBron and George to a young, talented Lakers roster, there is a chance they could become one of the favorites to win the West. This, combined with the attractiveness of LeBron finishing his career in LA where he spends much of the off-season could make the Lakers the front-runner to land him.
The other possible Western Conference destination is the Houston Rockets, who nearly pulled off the upset of the Warriors in a highly competitive seven game Western Conference Finals. In that series, it became clear that the Rockets have the roster and style of play that gives the Warriors trouble. Because of this, it is likely that LeBron believes he is the key ingredient to take the Rockets to the next level and eliminate the Warriors on the way to Finals. At age 33, LeBron joining the Rockets would also be beneficial because he would not be asked to carry the team like he is currently asked to do in Cleveland. Instead being entirely ball dominant where every possession revolves around him, playing with Chris Paul and James Harden would allow LeBron to play off the ball more and take some of the pressure off of him.
There is also the slight possibility that the Cavs come from behind to win the series, which would be one of the biggest upsets in team sports history. If LeBron is somehow able to carry his team to another title, it seems as if all options would be on the table because he would have proven he can beat the Warriors with a below average roster. In any case, the remainder of the NBA Finals will be fascinating to watch not only because a champion will be crowned, but also because the way the games play out could change the NBA landscape for foreseeable future.