LeBron James’ New Contract Puts End to Blockbuster Lakers Speculation

Rob Pelinka, Lakers GM

Getty Rob Pelinka, Lakers GM

Going back to the beginning of the month, when the Lakers were just days away from being able to agree to an NBA contract extension for star forward LeBron James, one of the big concerns among fans in L.A. was James’ willingness to stay put with a team that had just staggered through a 33-49 season. His signing of a two-year, $97.1 million deal with the Lakers on Wednesday ensures James won’t bolt via free agency next summer.

But, under the NBA’s collective-bargaining agreement, the deal has another mode of keeping James in place with the franchise: the Lakers can’t trade him in the coming season. File away all those blockbuster trades you may have cooked up for James on the NBA trade machine, then.

That’s because the league’s collective-bargaining agreement limits what players and teams can do on potential extend-and-trade deals. Any player signing a veteran extension can’t be traded if his salary exceeds 105% of his previous year’s deal. The first year of James’ deal ($46.7 million) is 104.9% of his previous contract, but the next year (his 2024-25 option) is worth $50.4 million, or 108% of the previous year.

James can be traded six months after the contract was signed, but that date falls well after the trade deadline. Thus, James will be guaranteed to be in L.A. next year.

Lakers Still Have Not Dealt With Westbrook Issue

Not that there was much chance James was going to be on the move anyway, even with what’s been a disappointing offseason to date. The Lakers have been active, with the hiring of Darvin Ham as the coach to replace Frank Vogel and with the signing of a spate of younger role players—Juan Toscano-Anderson, Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., Lonnie Walker, Damian Jones—but there has yet to be a significant upgrade in talent.

And the Lakers have not tackled the biggest problem they had last season, which was how to employ problematic star guard Russell Westbrook. The hope, as of now, is that the change to Ham will go a long way toward removing the Westbrook problem, but that probably represents too much wishful thinking for James’ comfort.

While there have been rumors going both ways—that James and Westbrook are engaged in a cold war on one hand, and that James and Westbrook continue to work closely together on the other—their off-court relationship really doesn’t matter, not when their on-court chemistry has gotten to be nonexistent.

F*** Them Picks?

The signing of James, though, has opened a renewed possibility that the Lakers would be willing to part with both of their tradeable picks, in 2027 and 2029. L.A. has been clinging on to the picks during trade discussions, hoping to upgrade the team by only losing one pick or by using the picks in two separate deals.

Now, though, reporting has emerged that says the Lakers will, in fact, trade away both picks to find immediate help for James, who turns 38 in December and wants one more crack at bringing another ring to the Lakers. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on SportsCenter that the Lakers altered their stance.

It’s no surprise that, after meeting with James over the past two weeks, the Lakers agreed to change their course on the picks. James subtly expressed some frustration with the Lakers’ refusal to part with picks when seeking roster upgrades last year, and after the L.A. Rams won the Super Bowl in February, James took a swipe at the Laker front office in a tweet supporting general manager Les Snead, who wore a T-shirt declaring “F*** Them Picks,” in reference to the picks the team sent away to assemble a cast of star veterans.

“LEGEND!” James tweeted. “My type of guy!”

Be on the look, then, for the Lakers to drop an F-bomb on the 2027 and 29 drafts.

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