As we sit here in early August with just over two months till Opening night of the 2022-23 NBA season, the offseason has officially entered the dormant period.
With little to no real storylines to cling onto, NBA fans and analysts alike are looking far and wide for any potential drama or narratives to dive into regardless of how mundane it may be. Yes I’m talking about the Paolo Banchero-Dejounte Murray “beef” but that’s a story for a different day.
Nonetheless, there is one set of news that has catapulted itself to the front page of most NBA outlets and that is the speculation regarding the extension eligibility of one LeBron James.
Last Thursday the Lakers’ All-Star forward became eligible for a contract extension worth approximately $97 million. This would be following the $44.5 million he is about to make for the upcoming season and would keep the King in Tinseltown through the 2024-25 season. But the burning question on everyone’s mind is: Should LeBron James even want to re-sign with the Lakers?
Let’s take a look at the LeBron-Lakers fiasco while considering the storylines of the upcoming season while also considering the perspective of the almost 38-year-old superstar.
In order to contextualize the situation ahead of LeBron and the Lakers, we first have to look back at this past season.
Whether you are a Lakers fan or not, it seems safe to say that everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong.
Both James and Anthony Davis each missed over 20 games during the regular season. The team finished with a record of 33-49 en route to missing the Play-In tournament. Head coach Frank Vogel was utilized as the scapegoat and was fired after only three seasons with the team, one being the 2020 season in which the Lakers won the title. Oh and of course we cannot forget about all the “Russell Westbrook won’t work” slander that plagued the Lakers all season long.
Fast forward a bit to this offseason and things have not really gotten much better. Yes they brought in a fresh face in eight-year NBA veteran and former Milwaukee assistant coach Darvin Ham. But he is a first-year head coach and the last time we saw James with one of those, David Blatt ended up coaching overseas after only a year of coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers and is still there to this day in an executive role.
All that to say that even though James has shown early support for Ham, things could of course quickly turn left if things get off to a rough start.
Then there are the circumstances regarding Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook.
Since winning the championship in 2020, Davis has only played 76 games in the last two seasons and is slowly falling out of favor with Lakers fans for his inability to be available when the team needs him most. Davis' lack of availability is one that of course cannot be helped when it tends to always be due to injury. But being an injury prone team on a relatively old team drastically diminishes your value. Especially when you have more DNPs than guys like fellow teammates Austin Reaves or Wayne Ellington who are not nearly as important to the Lakers’ potential success as Davis is.
Transitioning over to the Russell Westbrook part of the story, he pretty much was in a lose-lose situation all last season.
The guy was easily the team’s most durable player with 78 games played which led the team and he finished the season averaging 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists. But between the preconception of Westbrook’s inability to fit on the roster, the ungodly amount of “Westbrick” compilation videos and the team never being healthy, Westbrook became the fall guy.
Now after picking up his $47 million player-option, Westbrook has not become any easier to trade so it looks like he and the Lakers will be running it back for the foreseeable future.
But even that is not great when you look at the rest of the roster.
According to ESPN, the Lakers next season would be kicking off Opening Night with a starting five of Westbrook, Reaves, Talen Horton-Tucker, James, and Davis. But then there’s the bench.
Kendrick Nunn, who did not take a single live game dribble last season and was just recently cleared for five-on-five activity. An unproven Lonnie Walker IV who the Lakers used their entire $6 million mid-level exception on. Then round things out with Thomas Bryant and Stanley Johnson who have both shown promise in spurts but are more so reclamation projects.
Essentially you could make the argument that as constructed, this roster is actually worse than last season.
And you may be asking: How can they get better this season?
Well, they can either sucker a third team in taking Westbrook in a Kyrie Irving trade or using the old reliable Horton-Tucker, Nunn and the 2027 first round pick package. But outside of that they have no real flexibility financially nor through draft compensation to make real strides towards an upward trajectory.
But the real cherry on top of this fiasco comes from looking ahead at the 2023 free agency class.
As a near 38-year-old, James has to realize that he may only have one or two more real competitive seasons ahead of him.
He has already made it clear to the media that in 2024 when his son Bronny James becomes draft eligible, he wants to be where Bronny is. So that essentially gives us a two-year countdown before the much-anticipated father-son farewell tour begins.
So, with that being said there are few situations that could open up next offseason that should at least pique the interest of LeBron James.
The first is Golden State. Andrew Wiggins is set to become an unrestricted free agent and despite arguably being the second-best player on the Warriors during this past Finals, that Warriors team is becoming more and more expensive by the day. Jordan Poole is up for an extension as well and the team will also have to make decisions on Draymond Green and former No.2 overall pick James Wiseman.
James has already come clean by admitting that he is a fan of the idea of one day teaming up with 2022 Finals MVP Stephen Curry. Curry of course nonchalantly dismissed the proposal but under the right circumstances, the opportunity could be up for discussion.
Then there is Kyrie Irving with the Brooklyn Nets. It has been made clear on several occasions this offseason that the two would be open to playing with one another again, but what about the idea of James replacing Irving on the Nets?
The Nets already are a well-constructed team led by Kevin Durant alongside the likes of Ben Simmons, Patty Mills, Seth Curry, and others. The Nets have shown in past off-seasons that they are slowly becoming a viable destination for buyout market guys.
Plus, as a 39-year-old, is he really going to get that much slander for teaming up with another top-5 player in the world? Well probably, but James is more than familiar with playing the villain role and should be more than willing to embrace the scrutiny if it gives him another real opportunity to compete for a title.
Regardless, if James chooses to decline the extension and pursue next offseason as an unrestricted free agent, he will likely only sign a 1+1 deal with a player option in the summer of 2024. This will put him out on the open market again just in time for the arrival of Bronny James on the NBA scene. So, in a sense he would be a one-year rental for either of these teams without being of great cost long-term.
Now do I see him actually going to either of these teams? Not really, but I’m not ruling out the possibility. But the fact that these options are even possibilities to consider may actually be part of the reason why LeBron James does not seem to be in a rush to sign his contract extension to stay in Los Angeles.
Only time will tell but nonetheless, this is just another hair-pulling Lakers storylines for fans to scoff about throughout what is going to be yet another long season for the team in purple and gold.