The Los Angeles Lakers had a rough season. That’s probably putting it as lightly and simply as it could be put, as watching the 2021-22 campaign resembled the longest and most violent car accident you’ve ever seen. And with it now over with head coach Frank Vogel gone and continued reports that Russell Westbrook has probably played his last game with the franchise, it seems the Lakers can start anew and find a way to build optimism for the 2022-23 season. After all, they still have LeBron James under contract for the 2022-23 season and Anthony Davis under contract through the end of the 2023-24 season at least.
However, as we saw in LeBron’s second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, having LeBron under contract for another season doesn’t mean that there won’t be constant drama and speculation on what may come next. Because as LeBron has been The King on the hardwood for a decade-plus, he’s also been The King off the court in the offseason, wielding his power to shift the league with one signature.
And although he doesn’t need to sign an extension with the Lakers this offseason, there is a two-year extension between the Lakers, LeBron, and Klutch Sports that will become available in August. Before this season, it seemed that was very likely to happen, however, according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
Based on my conversations with people who have a strong sense of such things, it’s clear James is considering playing out this contract rather than signing a two-year extension this summer. If flexibility and freedom are the goals here, James (who is owed $44.4 million next season) could go back to the year-by-year approach he perfected in his second Cleveland stop.
This report came in the middle of a long article from Amick that mostly focused on the fact that sources said LeBron would be enthused about the Lakers hiring Mark Jackson to be their new coach. I note that as anyone would be foolish to be dismissing this as Amick just trying to get clicks, as the multiple reports seemingly from LeBron’s camp shows he does have an ear to people around The King.
And the extension talk didn’t just come out of nowhere. Both LeBron and Pelinka were asked about it in their exit interviews on Monday, April 11th. However, they had to be very secretive and dismissive to the questions as the Lakers and Klutch cannot legally discuss extension matters yet (of course, we all know that these illegal conversations happen behind the scenes all the time).
“Well, the conversation has not been talked about technically because of the collective bargaining agreement,” James said during his exit interview on Monday morning. “That can’t even be discussed until later on in the year. So I know it’s out there, but we — myself and Rich (Paul, James’ agent and CEO of Klutch Sports Group) — can’t even begin to talk with Rob (Pelinka) and the front office at all because of the collective bargaining agreement. So when we get to that point, we’ll see.
“I came here to win a championship and I want to win more,” James said. “So I accomplished what I want to accomplish, but I’m still hungry for more. I’m confident that this organization wants the same. That’s what this organization has always been about. And also just wanting to change the narrative about how this franchise can compete at a high level again. What they’ve done for decades, and decades, and decades of winning.
“The partnership we’ve had, first with LeBron, his representatives, has been great and just a gold standard,” Pelinka said. “We’ve appreciated his professionalism and directness and the amount of conversations we have over the course of the season is really meaningful. Every indication that we’ve received is that he sees the Lakers as his home. The CBA…is very specific about what we can and can’t say about player negotiations, so we have to be very mindful and follow those rules so I can’t talk about his future contract status. But the feeling is he loves being a Laker and sees this as a long-term home. That’s been made loud and clear.”
(The quotes above were reported and transcribed by Jacob Rude and Silver Screen & Roll)
Rob Pelinka’s quote paints a picture of LeBron signing an extension as a very likely scenario. LeBron doesn’t go as far in terms of confidence as Pelinka, but he does note that he is confident that the organization does want to return him and the team back to championship-contention, and that he originally came to the organization to not only win one ring… but multiple.
I highlight originally there, as we all know LeBron’s plans can change at the drop of the hat. That may be evidenced in Amick’s report as LeBron can say far more through anonymous reports than he can through his own words. Maybe he is seriously considering the 2022-23 season to be his final one in the purple-and-gold. His desire to play with his son could become a reality very soon, and given the fact that the opportunity to draft Bronny James could become random NBA franchises’ bidding war to also sign LeBron, it seems doubtful that that father-son pairing would happen on the Lakers.
But take a look at the teams with an abundance of cap space in the 2023 offseason. None of them seem like teams with a core or front office that LeBron would want to join, except, well… the Cleveland Cavaliers. But following his flirtations around the 2022 All-Star Game about returning home, a report quickly came out that indicated the Cavs organization may not even be interested in bringing the Akron kid home again.
Realistically, this is just LeBron trying to put pressure on Rob Pelinka, Jeanie Buss, and the rest of the Lakers organization to do a far better job this offseason than they did last offseason. Whatever moves they make, they will be done far before the time comes when the Lakers and LeBron can sign that possible two-year extension.
Once that time comes, we may get LeBron’s evaluation of the front office’s 2022 offseason through his decision to sign that extension or not.