The LeBron James Contract Extension Gives The Lakers Time

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The Los Angeles Lakers extension of LeBron James announced Wednesday just buys time.

It buys time for the Lakers to get organized and make one more run at an NBA title.

It gives LeBron the title as highest paid NBA player in history: $532 million if you’re keeping score, but the exact numbers on the contract aren’t final because as a max player, James’ yearly salary will hinge on the salary cap.

It means that LeBron won’t be a free agent next year, so sorry Cleveland, you can’t have him back just yet.

And it might be the smartest thing the Lakers could have done, or just the latest in a wave of player evaluation mistakes.

James will be 38 at the end of this year. Because of various ailments, he played in 45 games in the 2020-2021 season and just 56 last year. Still, he was productive as heck, averaging over 30 points in a season for the third time in his career.

The extension buys time, but time runs out on everyone, someday.

How The Extension Serves LeBron

Perhaps what the James extension does most is keep the Lakers at the top of the NBA rumors market. They still drive a lot of the conversation in the NBA. James is arguably the biggest star in American sports. It goes without saying that LeBron James needs Los Angeles and Los Angeles needs LeBron James.

What the extension doesn’t do is ensure James retires a Laker. It also doesn’t mean he will magically be healthier this season.

And then there is the Bronny question.

LeBron James Jr. a.k.a. “Bronny” will be NBA Draft eligible in 2024.

LeBron the First has said he wants to spend a year playing with his son. It’s hard to know whether that was a throwaway line, or a sincere narrative. No one has any idea if Bronny is an NBA player at this point. I’m like you, I see the highlights of him dunking, but does he play defense? Can he rotate? Can he shoot from deep? Playing AAU ball in some gym in Rye, New York doesn’t make you a future NBA pick.

LeBron the First cooked into his extension a player option for the 2024-2025 season. No one turns down a player option, but LeBron could if it means he wants to go to Sacramento to play with his son for a year. What does he need the money for?

How The Extension Serves The Lakers

It basically sets them up to run it back in 2022-2023 with the same cast of characters. Laker fans would do anything not to see Russell Westbrook anymore, but with his contract, and, unless Kyrie Irving has another change of heart, he’s a Laker this season.

The Lakers’ third star, Anthony Davis, also has battled injuries in the last few years. To me, he’s really the key to any chance the Lakers have of serious success this season.

Remember, the Lakers also have a new coach in Darvin Ham. He’s going to have a nice early honeymoon phase, and I expect the Lakers to be much better on defense early in the year.

I’ve said it before, but the goal for the Lakers needs to be staying just healthy enough to win 45-48 games in the regular season and make the playoffs. Then they roll out their Big Three and take their chances. The thing is, this model isn’t successful in the NBA anymore. The Lakers are sometimes still a one-on-one team playing in a pace-and-space world. Who doesn’t want to sign LeBron James, even at age 37, but after Westbrook, Davis and James, the Lakers are just a bunch of serviceable role players.

Will This Work?

James is one of the greatest basketball players we have ever seen. We can have the best of all time argument another day. James has to realize it’s smarter for him to pick his spots now. There are only so many more back-to-backs or trips to Orlando he can take.

But by signing the deal, LeBron shows that he thinks his best chance to win right now is with the Lakers.

For a player who has demonstrated such great vision and skill in his career, we shouldn’t doubt him, but we should also recognize that time is running out.