LeBron James and his Los Angeles Lakers haven't exactly seen eye-to-eye lately. James pushed the team to acquire Russell Westbrook, and the front office won't stop blaming him for it through leaks. James praised several other teams and executives at All-Star Weekend, and with his contract set to expire next offseason, his future as a Laker has never been less clear. Just don't expect him to suit up for a new team next season.
James is eligible for a two-year, $97.1 million contract extension this offseason. The Lakers are likely to offer it. But even if he doesn't sign it, The Athletic's Sam Amick reports that Lakers owner Jeanie Buss wouldn't view such a decision as an impetus to trade the four-time MVP.
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For now, that puts James on track for 2023 free agency without an extension. It is too early to guess at what he might do then, but he has stated on the record that he plans to sign with whatever team drafts his son, Bronny James, if and when he enters the NBA. The earliest that could come would be 2024. The Lakers could potentially be without a first-round pick in that draft depending on whether or not the Pelicans choose to defer the last pick owed to them from the Anthony Davis trade. That puts the Lakers in serious danger of losing James then, when another team picks his son.
For now, though, the Lakers appear comfortable taking things one year at a time provided their relationship with James remains strong. That this was even reported suggests that things are moving in the right direction, but there is so much uncertainty surrounding the team right now that it's not fully clear how satisfied James will be when the dust settles. The Lakers are still searching for a head coach, and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, whom James has publicly criticized for racist comments, is. They also must make a decision on whether or not to trade Westbrook and rebuild around James and Anthony Davis this offseason.
For now, both sides are best served making things work. James and his family are comfortably settled in Los Angeles. Davis is his handpicked co-star. The Lakers spent years searching for a star of James' caliber to replace Kobe Bryant. Letting him go would mean starting that search all over again. Things might be tenuous right now, but that's no reason to rush a breakup. If the Lakers still want to win championships and James is still happy to help them try, their best bet is to move forward together.