Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James has agreed on a two-year, $97.1 million contract extension that will keep him under guaranteed contract with the franchise until 2024, according to multiple reports.
The deal will make James the highest-earning player in NBA history with career earnings of $532 million.
James is owed $44.5 million for this coming season, the last of his current contract. His new deal reportedly includes a player option for the 2024-25 campaign, when he will turn 40 years old, and a 15% trade kicker.
The new contract, which could rise as high as $111 million if the NBA's salary cap continues to escalate, essentially adds one guaranteed season to his current deal. That means James can become a free agent when his son Bronny finishes his freshman year of college and becomes draft-eligible for the first time.
Asked in February where he would like to finish his career, James informed The Athletic's Jason Lloyd, "Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year."
This could be the script for the end of James' legendary career. Opt into the final year of this extension if the Lakers draft Bronny (or commit to signing him as an undrafted free agent), or opt out and join whatever team signs his son — if a team does. Or the 18-time All-Star could continue defying age into his 40s.
In four years with the Lakers, James won a championship in 2020, lost in the first round of the 2021 playoffs and missed the postseason entirely in 2019 and 2022. The Lakers finished last season with a 33-49 record, and they have made no significant roster moves beyond the hiring of first-year head coach Darvin Ham.
Injuries to James and Anthony Davis played a role in the Lakers' demise. Neither player has been able to consistently stay on the floor since they won a title together in the Orlando bubble. An iron man for the first 15 years of his career, James has battled injuries to his groin, knee and ankle since arriving in Los Angeles.
If James is solely focused on winning titles at this point in his career, this extension makes that goal more difficult. The Lakers can create roughly $20 million in cap space in 2023, when Russell Westbrook's deal comes off their books, which gives them room to make minor improvements around James and Davis. Even if you trust general manager Rob Pelinka to maximize that spending, it still might not be enough to contend.
Every other year James was playing for a team with sub-championship expectations and had the chance to leave, he did so, moving to Miami in 2010, Cleveland in 2014 and Los Angeles in 2018. This extension can be interpreted in many ways — as a vote of confidence from James, confirmation that L.A. is his last stop (at least before his dream season with Bronny) or a concession that at his age it's best to secure the money.
Davis also owns a player option in 2024, when the Lakers could potentially add a third high-priced star or lose both of their marquee talents. Again, James will turn 40 years old in December of that year, when he is now signed for $50 million. The Lakers trust that he will be worth the investment. He will sell tickets until the day he retires. Whether or not his star power can still translate into playoff wins is a matter still to be settled.
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