No athlete within the historical past of American sports activities is extra synonymous with free company than LeBron James. James has modified groups through 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 another time.
James is getting into the ultimate yr of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s now eligible to signal an extension that will 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 can be an unrestricted free agent once more in 2023 and can ignite one other yr of rampant hypothesis about his future.
James will flip 38 years outdated in Dec. He’s now not the consensus finest participant within the NBA, however he’s comfortably nonetheless within the top-10 of the game. If James is a free agent, there can be loads of groups across the league prepared and keen to create max cap house to signal him.
The massive query is an easy one: what does LeBron need out of the top of his profession? There are just a few totally different concepts floating round up to now.
LeBron James needs to play along with his son Bronny
James has publicly said a number of occasions that he needs to play along with his oldest youngster, LeBron James Jr. aka Bronny James, earlier than he retires. Right here’s what he mentioned throughout All-Star Weekend in February:
“My final yr can be performed with my son,” James mentioned. “Wherever Bronny is at, that’s the place I’ll be. I might do no matter it takes to play with my son for one yr. It’s not in regards to the cash at that time.”
Bronny James can be a highschool senior this upcoming season at Sierra Canyon in LA. He’s at the moment ranked on the No. 43 general 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 can be after highschool. He has scholarship affords from virtually each main faculty program, together with Duke and Kentucky. He might 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 might spend the yr 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 appear like, however proper now it feels unlikely he’ll be a top-10 choose in 2024. In the intervening time, I’d mission him as an early second rounder, however after all that may change. If LeBron is absolutely keen to comply with his son wherever he will get drafted no matter cash, it’s doable Bronny’s draft inventory enjoys a major rise within the pre-draft course of.
LeBron James might 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 best gamers in NBA historical past. Whereas there’s definitely a robust argument for James because the GOAT, it appears like a big part of followers received’t contemplate that he might 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 doable he’ll make his subsequent free company choice based mostly round which staff provides him the very best probability to win a championship, as he’s finished 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 had been eradicated within the first spherical within the 2021 playoffs, after which missed the playoffs utterly in 2022. If James doesn’t imagine he can realistically compete for a title by staying with the Lakers, would he actually re-sign?
LeBron James might need to return to Cleveland
There’s already hypothesis that James might return to Cleveland for a 3rd time when he’s a free agent in 2023. The Cavs have constructed an ideal younger core since James departed for the Lakers. Final yr’s rookie huge man Evan Mobley could possibly be a future celebrity, whereas teammates Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen had been every named All-Stars final yr. All three gamers are between 21-24 years outdated.
James mentioned ‘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 follow on the campus of Cleveland State. “I’m not saying I’m coming again and enjoying, I don’t know. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t even know once I’m free.”
It could make sense if LeBron needed 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 function than James. Cleveland is reportedly “not continuing with the intention of getting LeBron for a 3rd time,” in line with The Athletic. The Cavs might have as much as $30 million in cap house subsequent summer season with the chance to create extra.
If LeBron doesn’t settle for the Lakers’ extension, there can be loads of rumors tying him to Cleveland whether or not it’s practical or not.
LeBron James might 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 yr at Sierra Canyon this season. Even when the Lakers don’t give LeBron the very best probability to win one other title, it’s doable he’ll be content material to finish his profession in Los Angeles with the hope of enjoying alongside Bronny.
LeBron James can wield his energy in free company another 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 means out to Boston and the roster round him began to break down.
What does James need from LA this time round? It isn’t laborious 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 getting into the ultimate yr of his contract with the Brooklyn Nets.
LA might commerce its 2027 and 2029 first spherical picks for Irving, however the group has reportedly been reluctant to do 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 every thing that I’m not allowed to. Actually he was the best Laker ever. He understood staff over self. That means your rewards would come when you valued staff targets over your individual then every thing would fall into place. All can reply.
— Jeanie Buss (@JeanieBuss) July 4, 2022
With Westbrook on the roster subsequent yr, the Lakers haven’t any shot at a championship. If they’ll transfer him for Irving, it’s doable the Lakers could possibly be championship contenders if James, Irving, and Anthony Davis all keep obtainable. In fact, that’s an enormous if.
If all issues had been equal, it appears 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 appears like the most important hurdle for LA for the time being.
It appears like James remains to be adequate to be the very 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 slightly play with Bronny at the price of realistically competing for an additional title? This all comes right down to what LeBron needs on the finish of his profession. His choice on a contract extension would be the first huge signal.