LeBron James Free Agency: Star has 4 options to take control of next free agency

No athlete in the history of American sports is more synonymous with free will than LeBron James. James changed teams through free agency three times in his 19 years in the NBA, and he led his new franchise to a championship with every move. As he enters the twilight of his career, he has the opportunity to once again exercise his power in free will.

James is entering the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. He is now eligible to sign an extension it would net him $97.1 million over two years. If he accepts the deal, he would get the biggest career earnings in NBA history at $532 million. If he doesn’t accept it, James will once again be an unrestricted free agent in 2023 and spark another year of rampant speculation over his future.

James turns 38 in December. He’s no longer the consensus best player in the NBA, but he’s still comfortably in the sport’s top 10. If James is a free agent, there will be plenty of teams in the league ready and willing to create maximum space to sign him.

The big question is simple: what does LeBron expect from the end of his career? There are a few different ideas floating around at this point.

LeBron James wants to play with his son Bronny

James has publicly stated on several occasions that he wants to play with his eldest son, LeBron James Jr. aka Bronny James, before he retires. Here’s what he said during All-Star Weekend in February:

“My senior year will be played with my son,” James said. “Wherever Bronny is, that’s where I will be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for a year. It’s not about the money then.

Bronny James will be senior this season at Sierra Canyon in Los Angeles. It is currently ranked at Prospect No. 43 overall in his category by the 247 Sports composite. Read our Full breakdown of James Jr.’s skills and path to the NBA here.

No one knows what Bronny’s next step will be after high school. It has scholarship offers from almost every major college program, including Duke and Kentucky. He could potentially play for the G League Ignite program which helped develop Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga and Dyson Daniels into the top 10. NBA Draft selected. He could spend the year training for the draft or playing in an alternate program like Overtime Elite.

It’s too early to tell what James’ draft stock will look like, but at the moment it seems unlikely that he’ll be a top 10 pick in 2024. At the moment, I’d project him as an early second round, but of course that can change. If LeBron is truly willing to follow his son wherever he’s drafted, regardless of the money, it’s possible Bronny’s draft stock will get a significant boost from the pre-draft process.

LeBron James could try to match Michael Jordan’s 6 championships

James has been compared to Michael Jordan since he was in high school. As his storied career draws to a close, most agree that Jordan and James are the two greatest players in NBA history. While there’s certainly a strong case for James as a GOAT, it seems like a large chunk of fans won’t consider he could pass MJ until he equals or surpasses his six championships.

Currently, James has four championship rings: two with the miami heatone with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and one with the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s possible he’ll make his next free agency decision based on which team gives him the best chance of winning a championship, as he did before when he signed with Miami.

While James won a championship with the Lakers in the bubble in 2020, the last two years haven’t been promising for LA. The Lakers were eliminated in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, then missed the playoffs altogether in 2022. If James doesn’t believe he can realistically compete for a title by staying with the Lakers, would he really sign? again ?

LeBron James may want to return to Cleveland

There’s already speculation that James could return to Cleveland for a third time when he’s a free agent in 2023. The Cavs have built a great roster of youngsters since James left for the Lakers. Last year’s rookie big man Evan Mobley could be a future superstar, while teammates Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen were each named All-Stars last year. The three players are between 21 and 24 years old.

James said “the door is not closed” on back in Cleveland for All-Star Weekend 2022:

“The door isn’t closed on that,” James said. Athleticism Saturday after Team East practice at the Cleveland State campus. “I’m not saying I’m coming back and playing, I don’t know. I don’t know what my future holds for me. I don’t even know when I’ll be free.

It would make sense if LeBron wanted to end his career in Cleveland for sentimental reasons. Of course, the Cavs would also offer James a better title shot than the Lakers and the opportunity to play with Bronny.

Cleveland’s rebuild is seriously lacking a dynamic forward, and there’s no one better to fill that role than James. Cleveland reportedly ‘not intending to get LeBron for third time’ according to The Athletic. The Cavs could have up to $30 million in cap space next summer with the ability to create more.

If LeBron doesn’t agree to the Lakers’ extension, there will be plenty of rumors tying him to Cleveland, whether that’s realistic or not.

LeBron James might want to stay in Los Angeles

James has his business interests in Los Angeles. He has moved his family there, with second son Bryce James expected to enter his second year at Sierra Canyon this season. Even if the Lakers don’t give LeBron the best chance of winning another title, it’s possible he’ll just end his career in Los Angeles in hopes of playing alongside Bronny.

LeBron James can wield his power once again in free agency to get the Lakers to trade Russell Westbrook

James has never asked for a trade in his career, but he’s been incredibly effective at getting what he wants by capitalizing on the threat of going to free agency. LeBron left Cleveland the first time around because they couldn’t build a championship roster around him. He left Miami in part because owner Micky Arison used Mike Miller’s amnesty clause to avoid going overboard in the luxury tax. He left Cleveland a second time after Kyrie Irving made his way to Boston and the roster around him began to crumble.

What does James want from LA this time around? It’s not hard to analyze his intentions: LeBron wants the Lakers to trade Russell Westbrook and acquire Irving. LeBron and Westbrook sat on opposite sides of the gym during Summer League and had no interaction. Irving is potentially on the trading block entering the final year of his contract with the brooklyn nets.

LA could trade its 2027 and 2029 first-round picks for Irving, but the organization was reportedly reluctant to do so. Many saw this tweet from Lakers owner Jeanie Buss on July 4 as a shot at LeBron urging the Lakers to trade future picks for Irving:

With Westbrook on the roster next year, the Lakers have no chance of winning a championship. If they can move him for Irving, it’s possible the Lakers could be championship contenders if James, Irving and Anthony Davis all remain available. Of course, that’s a big if.

If all things were equal, it looks like James would re-sign with the Lakers, compete for a championship, and play a season with Bronny. It’s the whole “championship dispute” angle that seems to be the biggest hurdle for LA right now.

Looks like James is still good enough to be the best player for a Championship side, but at this stage of his career he needs a lot of help. Can he get it in LA? Would he rather play with Bronny at the cost of realistic competition for another title? It all comes down to what LeBron wants at the end of his career. His decision on a contract extension will be the first big sign.

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