LeBron James became contract extension eligible on Aug. 4, but he doesn’t seem in a rush to officially extend his time with the Los Angeles Lakers beyond 2023 — an unsurprising development considering the trajectory L.A.’s offseason took amid the Kyrie Irving trade saga.
Even though James will turn 38 in December, offering him the two-year, $97.1 million deal he can sign this summer is a no-brainer. The four-time NBA champion averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists in his 19th season in the league, showing he still has enough gas in the tank to perform at the highest level possible even after he finds himself close to being on the wrong side of 40.
In fact, the Lakers would likely be over the moon if James quickly committed to the franchise so they could move on to finishing the 2022-23 roster with more clarity on their future. Understandably, governor Jeanie Buss and vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka might be hesitant to part with L.A.’s future first-round picks until the threat of losing the All-Star forward next year remains a possibility.
However, it’s plausible that giving up the 2025 and 2027 first-rounders to trade Russell Westbrook and upgrade the roster now is what would make James sign on the dotted line — and that James and the Lakers are effectively in a contract standoff, using the picks as leverage to get what they want.
But even if the 18-time All-Star puts pen to paper, how long will the James contract extension actually keep him in L.A.? Let’s investigate James’ options.
Two-year contract extension with a player option for 2024-25 (1+1)
The most likely outcome of the Lakers’ negotiations with James. It gives L.A. a piece of mind for another two seasons (including the upcoming 2022-23) and signals the forward’s interest in remaining with the team into his 40s if things go well. The one-plus-one extension also pretty much allows James to stay in control of his future, ensuring he can hit free agency in 2024 — an option the Lakers All-Star will want to have for two reasons.
First, James will be free to sign with the team that lands Bronny when he becomes draft eligible in 2024. Second, he will be able to opt-out of his contract at the same time as Anthony Davis if he decides to hit free agency following the 2023-24 season.
Two-year contract extension, no player option
Considering James’ contract will be subject to the Over-38 rule, that’s the longest he can extend his current deal for. If the forward committed to the Lakers until 2025, the franchise’s leadership would undoubtedly feel extra motivated to maximize the team’s chances of winning another title during that timeframe.
However, that takes away the option for James and L.A. to adjust the All-Star’s salary and increase the team’s cap space in the future — just like James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers did when the 32-year-old opted out of his deal and signed a new, discounted one with Philly this summer.
No contract extension (James hits free agency in 2023)
James could also play out his contract with the Lakers and sign a new one, either with L.A. or another team, next summer. The All-Star would be able to ink a three-year deal in 2023 as the 2022-23 season would no longer count toward the Over-38 rule’s limitations.
Also, James can potentially earn even more money by holding off on signing a new deal if the salary cap increases enough ahead of the next season.
Still, that’s rather a risky path to take. Remembering that James left the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency to join the Lakers in 2018, moving forward without the All-Star’s commitment would likely make Buss and Pelinka even more cautious when it comes to sacrificing L.A.’s future to strengthen the team in the short term — an attitude opposite to James’ win-or-bust mindset.
If the forward leaves and the Purple and Gold don’t take on any long-term salary between now and the 2023 offseason, they will suddenly have over $75 million in cap space — opening up a max contract slot for any superstar that wants want to team up with Davis in Los Angeles.
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