No athlete within the historical past of American sports activities is extra synonymous with free company than LeBron James. James has modified groups by way of free company 3 times throughout his 19 years within the NBA, and he’s led his new franchise to a championship with every transfer. As he enters the twilight of his profession, he has the chance to wield his energy in free company yet one more time.
James is coming into the ultimate 12 months of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s now eligible to signal an extension that may pay him $97.1 million over two years. If he accepts the deal, he’d lock within the largest profession earnings in NBA historical past at $532 million. If he doesn’t settle for it, James shall be an unrestricted free agent once more in 2023 and can ignite one other 12 months of rampant hypothesis about his future.
James will flip 38 years previous in Dec. He’s not the consensus greatest participant within the NBA, however he’s comfortably nonetheless within the top-10 of the game. If James is a free agent, there shall be loads of groups across the league prepared and prepared to create max cap house to signal him.
The large query is a straightforward one: what does LeBron need out of the tip of his profession? There are just a few completely different concepts floating round so far.
LeBron James needs to play along with his son Bronny
James has publicly acknowledged a number of occasions that he needs to play along with his oldest little one, LeBron James Jr. aka Bronny James, earlier than he retires. Right here’s what he stated throughout All-Star Weekend in February:
“My final 12 months shall be performed with my son,” James stated. “Wherever Bronny is at, that’s the place I’ll be. I’d do no matter it takes to play with my son for one 12 months. It’s not concerning the cash at that time.”
Bronny James shall be a highschool senior this upcoming season at Sierra Canyon in LA. He’s at the moment ranked on the No. 43 total prospect in his class by the 247 Sports activities composite. Learn our full breakdown of James Jr.’s talent set and path to the NBA right here.
Nobody is aware of what Bronny’s subsequent step shall be after highschool. He has scholarship gives from virtually each main faculty program, together with Duke and Kentucky. He may doubtlessly play for the G League Ignite program that helped develop Jalen Inexperienced, Jonathan Kuminga, and Dyson Daniels into top-10 NBA draft picks. He may spend the 12 months coaching for the draft, or play in an alternate program like Time beyond regulation Elite.
It’s too early to say what James’ draft inventory will seem like, however proper now it feels unlikely he’ll be a top-10 choose in 2024. In the intervening time, I’d venture him as an early second rounder, however after all that may change. If LeBron is absolutely prepared to comply with his son wherever he will get drafted no matter cash, it’s potential Bronny’s draft inventory enjoys a major rise within the pre-draft course of.
LeBron James may attempt to match Michael Jordan’s 6 championships
James has been in comparison with Michael Jordan since he was in highschool. As his legendary profession nears its conclusion, most agree that Jordan and James are the 2 biggest gamers in NBA historical past. Whereas there’s actually a powerful argument for James because the GOAT, it looks like a big part of followers received’t take into account that he may move MJ till he matches or surpasses his six championships.
Proper now, James has 4 championship rings: two with the Miami Warmth, one with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and one with the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s potential he’ll make his subsequent free company resolution primarily based round which staff offers him one of the best probability to win a championship, as he’s executed earlier than when he signed with Miami.
Whereas James received a championship with the Lakers within the bubble in 2020, the final two years haven’t been promising for LA. The Lakers have been eradicated within the first spherical within the 2021 playoffs, after which missed the playoffs fully in 2022. If James doesn’t consider he can realistically compete for a title by staying with the Lakers, would he actually re-sign?
LeBron James may need to return to Cleveland
There’s already hypothesis that James may return to Cleveland for a 3rd time when he’s a free agent in 2023. The Cavs have constructed an incredible younger core since James departed for the Lakers. Final 12 months’s rookie huge man Evan Mobley may very well be a future celebrity, whereas teammates Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen have been every named All-Stars final 12 months. All three gamers are between 21-24 years previous.
James stated ‘the door isn’t closed’ on returning to Cleveland throughout 2022 All-Star Weekend:
“The door’s not closed on that,” James instructed The Athletic on Saturday following the East’s staff observe on the campus of Cleveland State. “I’m not saying I’m coming again and taking part in, I don’t know. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t even know after I’m free.”
It will make sense if LeBron wished to finish his profession in Cleveland for sentimental causes. In fact, the Cavs would additionally present James with a greater title shot than the Lakers, and the chance to play with Bronny.
Cleveland’s rebuild is absolutely simply lacking a dynamic ahead, and there’s nobody higher to fill that position than James. Cleveland is reportedly “not continuing with the intention of getting LeBron for a 3rd time,” in response to The Athletic. The Cavs may have as much as $30 million in cap house subsequent summer time with the chance to create extra.
If LeBron doesn’t settle for the Lakers’ extension, there shall be loads of rumors tying him to Cleveland whether or not it’s lifelike or not.
LeBron James may need to keep in Los Angeles
James has his enterprise pursuits in Los Angeles. He’s relocated his household there, with center son Bryce James set to enter his sophomore 12 months at Sierra Canyon this season. Even when the Lakers don’t give LeBron one of the best probability to win one other title, it’s potential he’ll be content material to finish his profession in Los Angeles with the hope of taking part in alongside Bronny.
LeBron James can wield his energy in free company yet one more time to get the Lakers to commerce Russell Westbrook
James has by no means requested a commerce throughout his profession, however he’s been extremely efficient getting what he needs by leveraging the specter of leaving in free company. LeBron left Cleveland the primary time as a result of they couldn’t construct a championship roster round him. He left Miami partially as a result of proprietor Micky Arison used the amnesty clause on Mike Miller to keep away from going too far into the luxurious tax. He left Cleveland a second time after Kyrie Irving compelled his approach out to Boston and the roster round him began to break down.
What does James need from LA this time round? It isn’t arduous to parse his intentions: LeBron needs the Lakers to commerce Russell Westbrook and purchase Irving. LeBron and Westbrook sat on reverse sides of the fitness center throughout Summer season League and had no interplay. Irving is doubtlessly on the commerce block coming into the ultimate 12 months of his contract with the Brooklyn Nets.
LA may commerce its 2027 and 2029 first spherical picks for Irving, however the group has reportedly been reluctant to try this. Many seen this tweet from Lakers proprietor Jeanie Buss on July 4 as a shot at LeBron urging the Lakers to commerce future picks for Irving:
I miss KB. He would perceive and clarify all the things that I’m not allowed to. Truthfully he was the best Laker ever. He understood staff over self. Which means your rewards would come in the event you valued staff targets over your individual then all the things would fall into place. All can reply.
— Jeanie Buss (@JeanieBuss) July 4, 2022
With Westbrook on the roster subsequent 12 months, the Lakers don’t have any shot at a championship. If they will transfer him for Irving, it’s potential the Lakers may very well be championship contenders if James, Irving, and Anthony Davis all keep obtainable. In fact, that’s a giant if.
If all issues have been equal, it looks like James would re-sign with the Lakers, compete for a championship, and play a season with Bronny. It’s the entire “championship competition” angle that looks like the largest hurdle for LA in the intervening time.
It looks like James remains to be adequate to be one of the best participant on a championship staff, however at this stage of his profession he wants loads of assist. Can he get it in LA? Would he reasonably play with Bronny at the price of realistically competing for one more title? This all comes all the way down to what LeBron needs on the finish of his profession. His resolution on a contract extension would be the first huge signal.