As a fan of the Indiana Pacers, I’ve always found it hard to remain completely objective when considering Lebron James. On the one hand, The King is maybe the most complete player to ever grace the basketball court, and he has generally maintained some level of humility along the way. On the other hand, Lebron is the constant roadblock that stands between the Pacers and the NBA Finals each season, which makes it hard to root for him. On June 24, Lebron once again came front and center in the basketball world when he opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat, which caused me to revisit his influence on my hometown team, with particular focus on how James’ free agency might affect the Pacers in 2014.
To begin, it’s clear that there is little positive for the Pacers in anything that Lebron does, unless of course he somehow becomes convinced this summer that Indianapolis is his dream location and teams up with Larry Bird to bring a string of championships to the Indiana. Barring that kind of Hoosier miracle, though, we need to consider the more realistic possibilities.
Lebron Stays in Miami
This scenario would probably not be all that terrible for the Pacers, who played the last leg of the 2013-14 season and playoffs like they were already on the golf course and yet still managed to take the Heat to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Assuming that Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade also remain in Miami, the Heat would be old and somewhat stale next year, and the Pacers can hang with that current Big Three. The status quo is not ideal for the Pacers, but it might be manageable.
Lebron Signs with a Contender in the West
If Lebon casts his eyes to the West and decides to leave the cold winters and baggage of his past behind to sign with, say, the Houston Rockets, the scrum will be on in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers may have their problems, but they did craft the best regular-season record in the East last year, and they would have to be a favorite to take the conference flag in 2014-15. The Finals might be a different story, because there’s a good chance they’d run into their old nemesis in a new uniform.
Lebron Returns to Cleveland
As unlikely and unsavory as it may seem, the fact remains that the cards are on the table that would allow Lebron to return to the Cavaliers . For the Pacers, this is probably the worst Lebron scenario of all, because it would supercharge a division rival who is already on the verge of major improvements. Guard Kyrie Irving is one of the best young players in the league, and the Cavs hold the first pick (again) in the upcoming draft . Add Lebron to this mix, with his ability to draw other top-notch players, and Cleveland just might run the table for the remainder of James’ peak years. If the summer of 2014 plays out this way, pity the Pacers and everyone else.
No matter where Lebron James ends up this summer, it’s hard to see his next Decision helping the Pacers much at all. For Indiana and their fans, it’s just a matter of some Lebron evils being lesser than others.