Extension raises questions about the future of LeBron James, Lakers

Another cloud is coming for Los Angeles. The ones already hanging over the Lakers are about to get darker, until LeBron James indicators the two-year, $97 million contract extension for which he’s eligible on Aug. 4.

Otherwise, the NBA’s most vital participant of this century can turn into a free agent at the age of 38 subsequent summer season, when the Lakers could also be engaged on a 3rd straight season with no sequence victory in the playoffs. On three earlier events in his profession — in 2009-10, 2013-14 and 2017-18 — James performed a season for a group with sub-championship future expectations, and it was by no means type to his incumbent group.

That ought to have the Lakers bracing for a frosty winter in Los Angeles.

LeBron James’ lengthy historical past with free company

Each time, James stated all the proper issues coming into his remaining season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Cavs once more. He addressed each impending free company to start out the season, insisting that he would solely take into account his choices when the time got here and do his greatest to not let it turn into a distraction in the meantime. He then referred again to these feedback at any time when he was subsequently requested about his future choice.

“I’ve been a Cav for seven years, and I’ve by no means given any indication I used to be leaving,” he stated in November 2009, days earlier than declaring, “This free-agent discuss is getting outdated, and I’m going to cease. Tonight can be the final time I reply any extra free-agent questions till the offseason. I owe it to myself and my teammates.”

“I’d like to spend the relaxation of my profession in Miami,” he stated in September 2013, weeks earlier than clarifying, “I owe it to this group and I owe it to my teammates to actually not become involved and never discuss about it. “

“That hasn’t modified,” he stated in September 2017, when he was requested if earlier pledges to complete his profession in Cleveland have been nonetheless his intention, months earlier than asserting, “It’s a discredit to my teammates and the teaching workers right here. My solely focus now’s making an attempt to determine how we are able to turn into a championship-caliber group in these subsequent few months. It’s been so many tales about me in the previous few months, in the previous few days, about the place I’m going and the place I’m at and what place I’m in. I’m right here. I’m proper right here.”

So, it was honest to nonetheless increase an eyebrow when James stated of his future in Los Angeles this previous February, “This is a franchise I see myself being with. I’m right here. I’m right here. I see myself being with the purple and gold so long as I can play.” Just because it was honest to lift the different eyebrow when he addressed his impending extension eligibility by telling reporters at his exit interview in April, “When we get to that time, we’ll see.”

James cited the collective bargaining settlement as the purpose for not tipping his hand, and a quiet summer season from his camp all however confirms he’ll keep that look of ambiguity, at the very least till the negotiating window opens subsequent week. But let’s be actual: He is aware of whether or not or not he intends to signal an extension that might pay him roughly $50 million at the age of 40, and adaptability is extra vital than monetary safety when the NBA’s first-ever lively billionaire participant is making an attempt to script the finish to his fastidiously crafted profession.

Every hour, day by day James doesn’t signal the extension will result in one other query about his future, and will probably be the first query posed to him on media day, regardless of whether or not he broaches the topic on “The Shop” or elsewhere this summer season . The questions will not cease, regardless of how diplomatically he solutions them.

To be honest, James has accomplished effectively to disregard previous distractions. He was the league’s MVP in 2010 and the runner-up in each 2014 and 2018. He carried his groups so far as he may in the playoffs, after which they folded as soon as they ran up towards a superior opponent, and their shortcomings excused his departure .

If lopsided losses in the second spherical to the 2010 Boston Celtics and in the Finals to each the 2014 San Antonio Spurs and 2018 Golden State Warriors have been sufficient to persuade James he now not had the expertise round him to win, what may he suppose if the Lakers are scrapping for a play-in match spot once more?

LeBron James may have heads spinning in the Los Angeles Lakers’ entrance workplace. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

‘The door’s not closed’ on Cleveland

James has been by means of this information cycle sufficient to know the hypothesis he would stir when he praised one other common supervisor and informed The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd at the All-Star break, “The door’s not closed” on a return to Cleveland, and, “My final 12 months can be performed with my son. Wherever Bronny is at, that is the place I’ll be. I’d do no matter it takes to play with my son for one 12 months. It’s not about the cash at that time.”

The Cavaliers received 11 extra video games than the Lakers final season, regardless of a rash of accidents, they usually can create vital cap area subsequent summer season. It is at the very least a risk that James may return residence once more. He has repeatedly stated that championships are all that issues at this level in his profession, save for that farewell season along with his son, and at the very least 20 groups have been nearer to competing for a title than the Lakers have been final season.

Bronny James is coming into his senior 12 months of highschool at Sierra Canyon, the place he’s a four-star recruit. He can’t at the moment declare for the NBA draft till 2024, and even then it’s unclear if he’s a surefire prospect. (There is a distant risk he may turn into eligible for the 2023 draft, however that might require the NBA or the gamers’ affiliation to decide out of the present CBA in December and renegotiate the age of eligibility.)

The Lakers have solely a second-round choose from both the Memphis Grizzlies or Washington Wizards in 2024, and sustaining flexibility could also be LeBron’s approach of influencing who they choose with that choose. Other groups might also be prepared to draft Bronny, simply to recruit his father, however keep in mind: LeBron stated, “My final 12 months can be performed with my son,” which does not essentially imply his final 12 months can be his son’s rookie 12 months.

He may signal an extension with the Lakers till 2025 and nonetheless play a season along with his son in Los Angeles or elsewhere. Rejecting a suggestion would have extra to do with the state of the Lakers than Bronny’s profession path.

The state of the Lakers

Regardless, LeBron James can be 40 years outdated earlier than his son may even suppose about an NBA profession. James has been on the harm checklist extra occasions in his four-year Lakers tenure than he had in the entirety of his earlier 15 seasons. His solely wholesome season in LA included a four-month layoff for a world pandemic. His window to make significant playoff contributions is correct now, and the Lakers are nowhere near title competition.

Russell Westbrook needs out of LA, and James reportedly needs him out, too, however the Lakers is not going to discover takers with out together with draft picks. The Lakers have solely their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks to commerce, since the New Orleans Pelicans maintain their rights from 2023-25, and they’re rightfully hesitant to deal them, contemplating James can be 42 by then, they usually do not know what their roster will appear to be in his absence.

James is overtly pressuring the Lakers to commerce each accessible asset to enhance the group, however it’s unclear if Westbrook’s expiring $47 million contract and picks are even sufficient to land Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets or Buddy Hield and Myles Turner from the Indiana Pacers, since each groups rejected preliminary overtures.

We additionally do not know if both commerce would elevate the Lakers into critical competition. They are at the moment slated to start out at the very least two replacement-level gamers. That lack of depth is an actual challenge for a group counting on the well being of James and Anthony Davis, even when the Lakers discover a useful participant or two in a Westbrook deal.

So, James and the Lakers are left awkwardly dancing round their dedication to one another. The Lakers need James to commit earlier than they go all in on buying and selling each final asset, and James needs the Lakers to commerce each final asset earlier than he goes all in on them. It will not be dissimilar to the Cavaliers’ state of affairs in the summer season of 2017, when Irving wished out, they usually traded him for a package deal centered round an eventual top-10 choose relatively than ones for Paul George, as a result of each James and George may have left in 2018.

A non-committal from James is probably not a distraction in the locker room, however it might actually affect the approach the Lakers method their roster-building technique, and which may decrease their ceiling this 12 months and subsequent.

Every season is invaluable to James at this stage, and this coming 12 months is already beginning to really feel like a misplaced one, save for his pursuit of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s profession scoring report. The Lakers can create roughly $20 million in cap area subsequent summer season, assuming they preserve James, and that is probably not sufficient to change their title probabilities in any vital approach. The potential is there for a sputtering finish to a legendary profession.

That may additionally give the Lakers purpose to rethink their partnership with James. It will not be the Lakers’ approach, given the undeniable fact that they gave Kobe Bryant a two-year extension at the league’s highest wage in the rapid aftermath of his Achilles’ rupture at age 35, however buying and selling James for property and appreciable cap area in 2023 is an inexpensive pathway to shortly rebuild round Davis and keep away from futility for the relaxation of the decade.

Did we point out Davis can enter free company in 2024? He joins James on the Klutch Sports consumer checklist, and separating their futures in Los Angeles is less complicated stated than accomplished for Lakers common supervisor Rob Pelinka.

Trading James is at the very least as affordable as paying him $50 million at age 40 to play for a group now not in competition, which raises the challenge of whether or not or not the Lakers ought to even provide him a max extension. A dedication from James would at the very least give the entrance workplace a route by means of 2025, however to what finish? The most secure wager for all events could also be taking this one 12 months at a time, leaving the relaxation of the roster in annual limbo.

Sound logic is not going to stop all of these questions and extra. Such is the problem of leaving a legend’s exit technique open-ended. There is a storm coming for Los Angeles on Aug. 4, whether or not the Lakers prefer it or not.

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Ben Rohrbach is a workers author for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or comply with him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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