LeBron James’ playing future heading into next season and beyond has been a hot topic over the past few months or so, with various teams around the league all rumored to ‘have a shot’ at the small forward.

When James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2015, almost everybody thought it’d be the place where he’d end his career after the media circus that was 2011’s ‘Decision’, as many assumed LeBron has grown tired of the villain act he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had all portrayed in Miami.

But after 3 trips to the Finals, 2 of them resulting in failure, many have begun to wonder if LeBron really is going to stay in Cleveland for the rest of his career, something that was thought of as an impossibility when he returned 3 years ago.

Even though LeBron is only 1-2 in the Finals since his return to the Cavs, the Warriors almost unrivaled dominance have pretty much spoiled James’ second Cavalier tenure despite the championship win in 2016, which only lends itself to the ongoing rumors as some believe LeBron has come back and achieved all he’s wanted to — win a championship for Cleveland — and is looking forward to moving onto bigger and better things.

Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock

A few team’s names have been thrown into the hat to make a run at James when he hits free agency at the end of the season, including the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, and even the Philadelphia 76ers, but according to one reporter, there’s a deciding factor that could heavily influence James’ decision come free agency.

According to Ramona Shelburne, a Lakers analyst and reporter, James wants to join a team where he could slot in among other stars, rather than an up-and-coming team:

This isn’t good news at all for Laker and 76er fans.

Both Los Angeles and Philadelphia are on the come up after several seasons bringing up the rear in their respective conferences, and have hoarded enough draft picks and talent — as well as cap space — to the point where they’re on the verge of competing for playoff spots again. Despite this, both teams are nowhere near championship contenders, and even though both would be if LeBron decided to sign with them, both team’s rosters would only be hitting their primes once James began to leave his.

That’s why LeBron wants to be the ‘missing piece’ instead of joining a young team. He wants a team that can compete up until his retirement in a few years time. And that’s where the likes of the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs come in.

Houston currently holds the best record in the NBA right now at 22-4, as the addition of Chris Paul — a longtime friend of LeBron –, as well as the MVP-type play from James Harden, have transformed the Rockets from a top 4 side in the West to a top 3 team in the league. There’s no doubt that Houston will be right in the thick of it come playoff time, putting them head and shoulders above other teams if success is what LeBron is looking for.

Not to mention, adding LeBron to a roster that comprises of Harden, Paul, a bevy of shooters, and pick-and-roll big men would almost be a literal dream team, and would surely give the Rockets the edge over the Warriors.

Another Texas team could also be in the hunt for James, as LeBron has expressed interest in playing for coach Gregg Popovich before in the past. Sure, they already have an MVP small forward in the form of Kawhi Leonard, but that doesn’t mean Kawhi and LeBron would have to share minutes.

James could always slot in at the PG spot once Parker’s legs begin to fail him, creating one of the best two-way 1-2 punches in league history, with the added bonus of being coached by one of the best coaches in NBA history. This scenario is one of the more unlikely ones to actually come to fruition, but if James values winning that badly, the Spurs will always have a chance.

Or perhaps, none of the above occur and LBJ stays put in Cleveland, finishing out his illustrious career in front of his hometown.

A few moves would definitely have to be made to keep James happy — particularly trading a few pieces such as Shumpert, Frye, and that Brooklyn pick for an All-Star big man — just to keep the wheels turning once LeBron begins to slow down, but the Cavs would definitely be contenders as long as James is wearing the wine and gold, which is apparently all LeBron wants — to contend.

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