What if LeBron James joins the Charlotte Hornets in 2018?

PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 13: LeBron James
PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 13: LeBron James /

It is no secret that NBA megastar LeBron James can singlehandedly change the course of any franchise.  What exactly could we expect to see if he were to shock the world and take his talents to Charlotte?

As we approach the 2017-2018 season, once again a constant storyline will be the impending free agency of LeBron James. Any team that thinks they have even a slight chance will be vying for his services at some point.

And they should. Going on 14 years in the NBA, James is still the kind of player that can turn any team into an instant contender.

The Charlotte Hornets, like many other teams, have hardly ever been considered a serious future destination for James. As of right now, it would appear Los Angeles is the most likely to draw him away from Cleveland. However, as we have seen in 2010 and 2014, very few people, if any, truly know where LeBron is going until he announces it himself. Because of this, we can at least speculate on how Charlotte could benefit from a player of his caliber.

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Production on the Court

LeBron has shown the ability throughout his career to make his team drastically better. This is no more evident than what happened to the 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers. After James led them to a 61-21 record good for second in the league during the ’09-’10 season, they sputtered to a miserable 19-63 the next year following his infamous exodus to Miami.

The Hornets completely outclass that group that LeBron left behind all those years ago. They have a solid mix of stars, young prospects, and wily veterans. They also are one of the more unselfish teams in the league. James could be plugged in several lineups and utilized in many ways to create devastating mismatches. A “big” lineup of Kemba Walker/Nic Batum/James/Cody Zeller/Dwight Howard would overwhelm teams on the boards. What about a smaller, fast breaking lineup of Walker/Malik Monk/Michael-Kidd Gilchrist/James/Zeller? The possibilities would be numerous.

The Hornets, as constructed, could easily reach the playoffs. Now add James, who is accustomed to playing with teams that can barely win a game without him. You now have to believe Charlotte would instantly be favored to win the Eastern Conference. A trip to the Finals could become a regular occurrence in the Queen City.

Monetary Value

While all that potential success would be a revelation, it would no doubt come at a cost. LeBron already commands over $33 million per year, and would most likely want similar money from whoever signs him. If this holds true, it would be almost impossible for Charlotte to sign James while retaining all key players on the current roster. The Hornets are already over the current salary cap limit, a cap that is not projected to increase much next year.

A more likely scenario would have to involve a trade or two. The prime candidate in such a trade would be Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG is due $13 million through 2020. The athletic forward is still young enough to entice a team with his upside if he were to have a big season. Regardless of what moves need to be made, it is hard to argue that LeBron would not be worth it.

In addition to generating wins on the court, James generates eye popping money for any team he is a part of. During his time in Miami, LeBron doubled nearly the franchise value and operating profits, from $364/$124 million respectively in 2009 to $770/$188 million by 2014.

Charlotte might not see these kinds of figures since Miami is a larger market. It could, however, see a boost similar to what we saw in Cleveland. According to Forbes, the Cavaliers were immediately elevated by about $125 million in value upon James’ return in 2014. This put them back atop other small market powerhouses like San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

A player like James would increase sales in just about every category from tickets, to merchandise, to parking and concessions. The Hornets are already seeing an increase in season ticket prices. They would get another significant boost here. It is difficult to estimate the true economic impact that LeBron would bring to a community ultimately. What we do know from past history, is that the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Long term Impact

LeBron James signing with Charlotte would be more than just an overnight sensation. James has a well-documented history of attracting free agents everywhere he goes. The Akron, Ohio legend could permanently change the perception of Charlotte as a destination for superstars. If arguably the best and most respected player in the league wants to play here, who else might consider it?

All this is speculation of course. However, it’s plausible that the legendary tandem of James and owner Michael Jordan could attract another star or two. Hopefully, one that can carry the torch long after “King” James is gone.

The economic prosperity could possibly accelerate an MLB expansion to the city. Charlotte could be selected to host the NBA All Star game more frequently. While it would be difficult to point to James as the direct reason for any of these things, we know that the NBA is a player’s league. Perhaps more than any other sport, individual star power is the driving force behind any successful franchise.

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Charlotte is still awaiting the chance to land its first superstar in his prime. While the team might not ever land the King himself, there is no doubt that they seem to be acquiring better and better talent every year. The Hornets might not be making that splash in 2018, but it could be happening sooner rather than later. The Charlotte faithful will be ready when it does.