The National Basketball Association has only seen four players win back-to-back Most Valuable Awards since the turn of the century.
There’s nothing like the NBA offseason. The drama, the hope, the possibilities – they’re endless.
We already got explosive news out of San Antonio, where it seems to have been made official that Kawhi Leonard wants out (preferably to the Lakers).
As exciting as something like that is, everyone is really waiting to see where LeBron James is going to go.
We’ve all heard who the frontrunners (outside of the Cavaliers) are.
Philadelphia, where he can pair with a young but talent-laden squad. The Lakers, who have the cap space to bring in another superstar like Paul George. And then Houston, where he can try to reunite with his close friend Chris Paul.
But there’s one team that isn’t getting talked about enough: the New Orleans Pelicans. They might just be the best fit for James, and here are four reasons why:
They can make the money work
New Orleans doesn’t boast the cap space of Philadelphia or Los Angeles, but there is a clear path for them being able to land James.
DeMarcus Cousins played great basketball last season, but is coming off a torn Achilles and would probably have to be a necessary sacrifice in this pursuit.
If they don’t look to resign Cousins, a sign-and-trade with Cleveland involving role players and picks can easily be set up, trading away the likes Nikola Mirotic and others.
There is a potential scenario where they can re-sign Cousins and make a trade for James, but the ownership would have to be willing to deal with an absolutely massive payroll.
I’m going to operate under the assumption that Cousins will be gone.
It’ll be a squeeze, but landing the King will be well worth it as useful veteran players will jump at the chance to take less money and compete for a championship.
Defence won’t be a problem
Despite the Cavaliers’ lack of game-changing talent, they were actually a very strong offensive team.
The issue was their defence was consistently atrocious, and James should get a fair amount of the blame for that.
Joining the Pelicans will put him next to some of the best defensive players that he’s ever teamed up with.
Jrue Holiday was named to the All-Defensive First Team and has the size to bother guards and forwards alike.
He can cause headaches for all of the NBA’s elite guards that were previously annihilating the likes of Jordan Clarkson and JR Smith in Cleveland.
Anthony Davis, in addition to being a top-three MVP candidate, was also in the running for defensive player of the year.
LeBron has never played alongside a rim protector as mobile and athletic as Davis and will have the luxury of being able to count on help defence on the occasions where he gets beaten off the dribble.
The elite defensive talent of Davis and Holiday combined with James’ incredible defensive communication should translate into a top ten unit on that side of the ball. Pair that with a LeBron led offence and we have a strong championship contender.
James will have less pressure to create
Even though James was phenomenal all year long, we could all see signs of fatigue on his face during the playoffs.
Game after game of being forced to orchestrate nearly every offensive possession took its toll on him, even if he won’t admit it.
As he gets older, he needs to be able to take more of a backseat and conserve some energy here and there. Again, here is where Holiday and Davis will be a godsend.
They’re both elite defensive players but are just as deadly on the other side of the ball.
Holiday possesses great size for a point guard and can create with his ballhandling and passing skills for his teammates with or without James around.
He’s not Kyrie Irving when it comes to dribble penetration, but is a more willing passer, and will take a huge load off James by bringing the ball up on his own.
We all know that Davis is one of the most unstoppable forces in the league.
It would be like joining up with a more useful version of Kevin Love – one that can shoot but can also reliably do damage in the paint and act as a deadly roll man off P and R situations. Someone that you can actually play against the Warriors.
James and Davis running the pick and roll together would be a nearly unguardable match-up nightmare with their size and athleticism.
Davis is going to get spoonfed buckets. Any attempt to stick to him more closely and give James space is simply going to result in layups for the King or open threes for the rest of the team.
There should rarely be a time where all three of these players are on the bench together, so that means there will always be a capable offensive weapon on the floor.
There’s even a chance that New Orleans could bring back Rajon Rondo, and we know that he can run a team.
That means James might finally be able to sit without watching leads evaporate before his eyes.
The team is ready to win now
Part of the danger with teams like the Lakers and the 76ers is that no matter what the roster with James ends up looking like, there will be some reliance on talented but very inexperienced players.
Is someone like Ben Simmons savvy enough, or even good enough, to compete for a title?
Holiday and Davis, on the other hand, are proven stars in the primes of their careers. There aren’t questions over whether they can develop a working jump shot or be trusted to perform in close games.
James doesn’t have time to waste – he needs to start winning from day one.
The Pelicans offer players who are ready to compete at the highest level but are also young enough to improve by feeding off of James’ knowledge.
James, Holiday and Davis can form the core of a team who will seriously push the likes of Golden State and Houston.
If James’ driving motivation is still to win championships, you can bet that he’ll give New Orleans a very serious look.