LeBron James’ extension means the Lakers must now do whatever it takes to win

LeBron James’ extension means the Lakers must now do whatever it takes to win

The day’s biggest news came minutes before the release of the NBA’s 2022-23 schedule.

The Lakers and LeBron James have agreed to a two-year, $97.1 million contract extension, sources told The Athletic’s Shams Charania. The deal will keep James under contract with Los Angeles through at least the 2023-24 season. James has a player option for 2024-25, according to ESPN. Its renewal is worth up to $111 million over two years based on pay increases per charania.

James, who turns 38 on December 30, was limited to a two-year extension due to the CBA’s “over-38 rule.” He can’t be traded over five percent next season with the raise in the second year of overtime. The overtime makes James the highest-earning player in NBA history with $532 million in guaranteed career money.

James’s extension loomed over the Lakers’ summer and had the option to last until June 30, 2023 — the deadline for him and the Lakers to agree on terms before James became a free agent the following July.

James stirred speculation during the 2022 All-Star break when he told The Athletic that “the door isn’t closed” on the possibility of him returning to Cleveland to play for his hometown Cavaliers. Wednesday’s extension closes the door on that option — at least until 2024, the same summer that James’ son Bronny can be drafted by an NBA team. James told The Athletic earlier this year that he plans to play the final season of his NBA career with Bronny.

Those on the team were confident that James would likely sign an extension given how much he enjoyed playing for the Lakers and living in Los Angeles. The main complication of James’ decision was that he privately insisted the Lakers need to improve on the current roster and trade for superstar point guard Kyrie Irving, league sources told The Athletic.

Some believed James might refrain from quickly signing overtime as leverage. James could have twisted the proverbial arm and pressured the Lakers to close a trade much like he has done in the past. Instead, he committed for at least the next two seasons regardless of whether the Lakers trade Russell Westbrook or how they fare this season.

Had James not signed an extension, dragged it into training camp and throughout the season, there would have been wild speculation about his future all season. It would have been one of the first questions thrown at James during media day, and a common question from reporters on the street.

James, who is now signing the extension – nearly six weeks before training camp – wraps up the storyline and gives the Lakers a clearer idea of ​​their future. James and Anthony Davis are now on the same timeline, with both superstars having the option to negotiate new deals or test free agency in 2024.

James’ signing also pushes the Lakers to rebuild a championship-level roster. As they are currently set up, the Lakers are no contenders for the championship.

The Lakers have at least two more seasons with a championship-caliber No. 1 in James. There’s no telling what the future holds – James continues to defy fathertime – but the team’s championship chances are directly tied to its peak performance, which will only last for so long.

In a vacuum, the Lakers’ best shot at winning another title with James could be going all out next season rather than waiting until 2023-24 or 2024-25 to make a splashy addition when those around it Pieces could be better as James is heading for 40 and not as dominant or athletic.

As long as James and Davis are both healthy and producing at the All-NBA level — their health has been an issue the last two seasons — the Lakers have the basic tandem of a championship team. Injuries have derailed the 2020/21 season. Last season’s supporting cast obviously wasn’t good enough and provided a template for how not to build a team around James and Davis.

This season’s supporting cast is significantly better, but there are still big holes in the rotation — namely, 3-point shooting and outside defense — and the obvious limitations that come with Westbrook likely being such a prominent part of the team.

James certainly had reason to sign the extension sooner or later. The expansion includes financial security. He could have sustained a serious injury – he’s already suffered notable injuries in three of his four seasons in Los Angeles – that could have potentially jeopardized his future. But realistically, he always got that money — either from the Lakers or elsewhere in the free agency market.

Which brings up the last major decision the Lakers have to make before February 2023: Westbrook’s future and the resulting impact on their title window.

The Lakers need to figure out: Are they better off trading Westbrook and increasing their odds of winning in 2022-23, even at the expense of their longer-term future? Or should they stand firm and maintain their cap flexibility for summer 2023 and possibly 2024 – while risking James’ potential demise?

Given James’ preference to trade for Irving and his displeasure with the Lakers’ inactivity at the 2022 close, the tea leaves would indicate that the Lakers have indicated to James that they will be more aggressive in order to increase their title chances this season improve what, of course, would have to come in the form of Trading Westbrook.

What moves the Lakers do or do not make over the coming days, weeks and/or months will likely have been discussed and analyzed in detail with James.

With Westbrook’s salary off the books next summer, the Lakers could have over $34 million in caps in 2023, depending on what Talen Horton-Tucker does with his 2023-24 player option and how she does with the rest of her roster evade. That’s not enough to add a third free agent, but it’s enough to add a better third play or, if split across multiple players, better depth to a currently thin roster. They are expected to have the maximum cap spot in 2024 – the year James turns 40.

James ultimately made the decision that was best for both himself and the Lakers. The team suspended its top two players for at least two more seasons, extending a championship window that looked set to close.

But the work is not finished yet. James’ extension was only half of the Lakers’ two most important affairs this offseason. Another franchise-changing decision awaits.

(Top Photo: Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)