The King in the East has vacated his throne - but can you blame him?
After he dragged his rag-tag supporting cast at the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA finals to be subsequently decimated by the Golden State Warriors – LeBron James has gone in search of a new challenge.
Scratch that. He's gone out West where he'll actually be challenged, while the remaining Cavaliers players will be desperately searching for the next lot of coat tails to ride.
There was no big show, no televised press conference where he announced his decision. Just a simple press release sent out on the Twitter account of Klutch Sports Group - a platform of 20,600 followers. For reference, James himself has 41,800,000 on Twitter alone.
The four-time MVP announced he would be joining the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year, US$154m (NZ$227m) deal, after controlling the Eastern Kingdom for the best part of the last decade. This is a massive deal – the best player in the world joining one of the most marketable franchises in American Sports.
But more than that, the move gives the 33-year-old James the opportunity to silence the minority to still find a reason to argue against how great a player he is. In the East – it was a walk in the park. Let's be honest, outside of LeBron's Cavaliers, there were maybe two other genuine conference contenders – the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors.
But those out West? The Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trailblazers, Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans all have claims.
James will now go head to head with the best players in the league more frequently. Inter-conference match ups are played more frequently than cross-conference games, and James will have the opportunity to help build the Lakers to what they once were.
Watch as all your formerly non-committal friends suddenly become 'avid' Lakers fans.
Joining the talented young core of guards Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, and forwards Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, James makes this team who have now missed the playoffs for five seasons in a row an extremely desirable landing spot for marquee free agents. Bring in a rim protector – perhaps ex-Dallas big man Nerlens Noel (24) – and that team will develop into a very, very strong outfit before James' contract is up. Well, provided they all stay put, that is.
For the casual NBA fan, West match ups should be you immediate source for your basketball fix. If you're like me and love some erratic, inconsistent and sometimes baffling play mixed in with your quality NBA action – the East is going to be a lot of fun.
And now the throne sits empty, who will be the next to claim it?
Without LeBron, the East is anyone's to win. The Celtics and Raptors are sure favourites, but teams like the Detroit Pistons, who tend to start every year on fire before fading late to miss the playoffs, now shape up as an actual threat for the conference. The Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers – a team overflowing with brash young, raw talent –become a strong chance of appearing in the NBA finals next season.
What a time to be alive.
Players confirmed for the Los Angeles Lakers 2018-19 season at 2:45pm NZT July 2
Guards: Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart Lance Stephenson, Alex Caruso, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
Forwards: LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng, Moritz Wagner,
Centres: JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac.
Bonus fun fact because you made it this far: James' new coach, Luke Walton (38), was selected 31 picks after James in the 2003 NBA draft.