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

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

The Lakers and james lebron agreed to a two-year, $97.1 million contract extensionsources said Athleticism Shams Charania. The deal keeps James under contract with Los Angeles for at least the 2023-24 season. James has a player option for 2024-25, according to ESPN. His extension is worth up to $111 million over two years based on salary cap 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 cannot be traded in the upcoming season, with the increase in the second year of overtime exceeding five percent. The extension makes James the highest earning player in NBA history with $532 million in guaranteed career money.

James’ extension loomed over the Lakers summer and was lucky to linger until June 30, 2023 – the deadline for him and the Lakers to agree to terms before James becomes a free agent in next July.

James sparked speculation during the 2022 All-Star break when he said Athleticism this “the door is not closedon possibly returning to Cleveland to play for his hometown riders. Wednesday’s extension closes the door on that option — at least until 2024, the same summer James’ son Bronny is eligible to be drafted by an NBA team. Jacques said Athleticism earlier this year he plans to play the final season of his NBA career with Bronny.

Team members were convinced that James signing an extension was likely, given how much he enjoyed playing for the Lakers and living in Los Angeles. The main complication in James’ decision was that he was privately adamant that the Lakers needed to further improve the current roster and trade for the superstar point guard. Kyrie Irvingleague sources said Athleticism.

Some thought James might refrain from signing the extension early as a leverage play. James could have twisted the Lakers’ proverbial arm, applying pressure to make a trade, the same way he’s operated in the past. Instead, he’s signed up for at least the next two seasons, regardless of whether the Lakers trade. Russell Westbrook or how they are doing this season.

Had James not signed an extension, resulting in this in training camp and throughout the season, there would have been rampant speculation all season regarding his future. It was reportedly one of the first questions James was asked during the media day, and a frequent question from reporters on the road.

James signing the extension now — nearly six weeks before training camp — ends the storyline and gives the Lakers a clearer view of their future. James and Anthony Davis are now on the same timeline, with both superstars given the option to negotiate new deals or test free agency in 2024.

James’ commitment also puts the Lakers on the back burner to rebuild a championship-level roster. As currently constructed, the Lakers are not championship contenders.

The Lakers have at least two more seasons left with a championship-caliber No. 1 in James. It’s unclear what the future holds – James continues to challenge Father Time – but the team’s championship chances are tied directly to their peak performance, which will only last for a while.

In a vacuum, the Lakers’ best chance of winning another title with James might be to bank on the coming season rather than waiting until 2023-24 or 2024-25 to make a splashy addition, when the surrounding plays could be better but James will push 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 for the past two seasons — the Lakers have the fundamental tandem of a championship team. Injuries derailed the 2020-21 season. Last season’s supporting cast obviously wasn’t good enough and provided a model of how not to build a team around James and Davis.

This season’s supporting cast is significantly better, but there are still major holes in the rotation – namely 3-point shooting and perimeter defense – and the obvious limitations that come with Westbrook likely playing such a large part in the team.

James certainly had reason to sign the extension sooner rather than later. The extension locks in financial security. He could have suffered a serious injury – he has already suffered notable injuries in three of his four seasons in Los Angeles – which would have potentially put his future in danger. But realistically, he was still getting that money — either from the Lakers, or for that matter in the free agency market.

Which brings up the last big decision the Lakers need to make between now and February 2023: Westbrook’s future and the resulting effect on their title window.

The Lakers need to figure out: Will they trade Westbrook better and boost their chances of winning in 2022-23, even at the expense of their longer-term future? Or should they stick with it and maintain their cap flexibility for the summer of 2023 and possibly 2024 – while risking James’ potential decline?

Given James’ preference to trade for Irving and his dissatisfaction with the Lakers’ inactivity at the 2022 trade deadline, the tea leaves would suggest the Lakers indicated to James that they would be more aggressive in their quest to improve their title chances this season, which, of course, should come in the form of a trade with Westbrook.

Whatever moves the Lakers make or don’t make over the next few days, weeks and/or months will likely have been discussed and analyzed in detail with James.

With Westbrook’s salary coming off the books next summer, the Lakers could have over $34 million in cap space in 2023, according to what Talen Horton Tucker done with his 2023-24 player option and how they handle the rest of their roster. It’s not enough to add a maximum third free agent, but it’s enough to add a better third element or, if split among multiple players, better depth for a currently thin roster. They should have maximum ceiling space in 2024 – the year James turns 40.

James ultimately made the decision that was best for him and the Lakers. The team has its two best players locked up for at least two more seasons, extending a league window that was starting to look like it was closing.

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

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

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