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Sport Will LeBron James Sign Contract Extension With the Lakers?

17:21  03 august  2022
17:21  03 august  2022 Source:   si.com

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  Will LeBron James Sign Contract Extension With the Lakers? © Provided by Sports Illustrated

The 37-year-old is eligible to sign an extension tomorrow, but there's no upside to getting a deal done this early.

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LeBron James is eligible to sign a contract extension with the Lakers on Thursday.

Just don’t hold your breath for that announcement.

James seems unlikely to sign an extension this week. Or the week after. Or the week after that. Why? For starters, he doesn’t have to. Thursday isn’t a deadline. It’s the first day James can sign the extension. The last day? June 30th. Which means James has roughly ten months to agree to a new two-year, $97.1 million extension. If he doesn’t, he will hit free agency … when he can sign a three-year contract with the Lakers—or any other NBA team—next summer.

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Frankly, there’s little upside to an extension. Financial security? James doesn’t need it. He’s a billionaire, per Forbes, the first—and only—active NBA player to reach that milestone. Should James suffer a career-ending injury—and with modern medicine, those kind of on-court injuries don’t exist anymore—he won’t miss his Lakers income. Not to mention James’s desire to play with his eldest son, Bronny, who under the current rules will become draft eligible in 2024.

Besides—with free agency comes leverage. In Cleveland, James was a pioneer when it came to short term contracts. By signing two-year deals—with the second a player option, effectively injury protection—James was able to exert maximum leverage. He was able to push the Cavaliers to spend, which they did. Say what you will about Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, but when LeBron was on the roster, Cleveland spent whatever it took to build a winner around him.

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The Lakers spend—L.A. had the NBA’s sixth highest payroll last season, per Spotrac, paying a luxury tax of more than $40 million—but not indiscriminately. The decision not to bring back Alex Caruso, who signed a four-year, $37 million deal with the Bulls last summer, was largely financial. Caruso likely wouldn’t have made the Lakers a title contender last season, not with Davis injured and Westbrook struggling to fit, but his two-way play would have been valuable off the bench.

As a free agent to be, James, even passively, can apply pressure. Spend, or risk losing me. Deal away future draft picks, or risk losing me. Shape the roster with players I want to play with … or risk losing me.

So why sign an extension?

To avoid the distraction that comes with not signing it, maybe.

And to put an end to speculation of a third tour of duty in Cleveland once and for all.

Let’s start with the Lakers. There’s a new head coach. There’s a revamped roster. There’s one superstar (Anthony Davis) hoping to bounce back from an injury-plagued season and another (Russell Westbrook) who may not want to be there at all. There are a number of potential storms brewing in Los Angeles. The Lakers don’t need another.

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That’s what an extension-less James could be. Whether it’s been in Cleveland, Miami or Cleveland (again), LeBron’s contract years have been … interesting. Publicly, James will attempt to shut down speculation about his future. But that will do little to stop it. Every three-game losing streak will trigger a fresh wave of questions. Every word from his mouth will be scrutinized for hints of dissatisfaction. If L.A. struggles early, SHOULD THE LAKERS TRADE LEBRON will be a regular chyron on morning debate shows.

Then there is Cleveland. The Cavaliers have a good team. They have a rising All-Star in Darius Garland. They have a potential superstar in Evan Mobley. They have a young supporting cast that includes Jarrett Allen, Isaac Okoro and (presumably) Collin Sexton. On paper, the Cavs are a small forward away from being a title contender. And next summer they will have the cap space to make a run at one.

This isn’t 2014. The pull to return to northeast Ohio won’t be anywhere near as strong. James delivered a championship to Cleveland. He fulfilled the promises he made when the Cavs drafted him first overall, in 2003. Besides, James genuinely enjoys Los Angeles. His children are enrolled in schools in the area. He clearly likes the Southern California lifestyle and the business opportunities that come with it.

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But James wants to win. What happens if the Lakers can’t trade Westbrook? Or if Davis, who has played 76 games the last two seasons, struggles to stay healthy in this one? Laugh at (another) return to Cleveland, but James, who will turn 38 in December, isn’t spending the twilight of his career with a team that doesn’t give him a legitimate chance to win a championship.

A lot can change in the coming months. The Laker could engineer a Westbrook-Kyrie Irving swap, reuniting James with his former teammate. The young, more athletic roster L.A. has assembled around James could improve a defense that finished in the bottom third of the NBA last season. Davis could regain his All-NBA form. The Lakers don’t look like title contenders right now. But with good health and a little maneuvering, they could be.

If that happens, James isn’t leaving Los Angeles. #LoveLA was the hashtag James used on Wednesday in a tweet honoring the late Vin Scully. And he does. But a Cleveland reunion once appeared laughable when James was winning championships in Miami. With the Lakers in flux, another one can’t be dismissed.

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