LeBron James, barring something extremely surprising, will be a member of the Los Angeles Lakers through the end of next season. His current contract expires after 2022-23, but after that? Nothing is guaranteed, and if the Lakers haven't substantially improved their roster by then, James will have plenty of reason to consider alternatives. One popular theory? A second return to his original team.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are ascending with Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, and when James becomes a free agent in 2023, they are currently positioned to have max cap space. Could James take one last ride with the Cavs? "The door's not closed on that," James told Jason Lloyd of The Athletic Saturday after his All-Star team's practice. "I'm not saying I'm coming back and playing, I don't know. I don't know what my future holds. I don't even know when I'm free."
If James does choose to explore free agency in 2023, Cleveland would be the obvious destination. He's familiar with the organization. The Cavaliers can afford to pay him fair market value, and they'd give him a chance to compete for a championship. However, James appears far likelier to change teams in 2024. That's when his son, Bronny, will be one year removed from high school, and based on current NBA rules, eligible to enter the NBA Draft. In that same interview, James confirmed that he plans to play his final season on his son's team.
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"My last year will be played with my son," James said. "Wherever Bronny is at, that's where I'll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year. It's not about the money at that point."
James has changed teams in free agency three times, and while he's met with multiple teams at various points, he's never truly given the entire league any indication that he'd consider playing for them. With the news that he is committed to playing with his son, all 30 NBA teams can now genuinely feel as though they have a shot to land one of the greatest players of all time at a discount.
Of course, there's still plenty of time for things to change. The NBA could alter its one-and-done rule and get James Jr. into the draft earlier. He might also want to spend multiple seasons in college, delaying his father's retirement tour. All we can say for now is this: We have a clearer picture of what the end of LeBron's career will look like now than we've ever had before.