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LeBron James’ two-year contract extension is a step toward Lakers history

LeBron James celebrates the Lakers' 2020 NBA championship in Orlando, Fla.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers value winning, they value entertainment, and they know how to make the most of a big moment.

They’ve had so many in their organization’s history. They’ve handled championships and tragedies, sometimes in the same year, like 2020.

With news of LeBron James signing a contract extension keeping him with the organization through the 2022-23 season, the Lakers are in a prime spot to host another one — James becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Wednesday morning, James agreed to a two-year extension worth $85 million, tearing up the player option he had after this season, according to his agent Rich Paul from Klutch Sports.

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For James, it’s money and security. For the Lakers, it’s a chance for one of the most famous shots in league history to be made by a player from the league’s most famous franchise.

James is running down Kareem Abdul-Jabbar like one of his famous chasedown blocks. He trails the Lakers’ “Cap” by 4,146 points — and if he’s relatively healthy like he’s been for most of his career, James should become the league’s most prolific scorer while wearing a Lakers uniform.

The math works something like this: James, who has averaged 27 points for his career, would need to average somewhere around 24 points per game to put him atop the league’s all-time scoring list in approximately 175 games.

The NBA announced its first week of nationally televised games, highlighted by the Lakers and the Clippers meeting at 7 p.m. PST on opening night, Dec. 22.

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Scoring has never been the way you’d distill James’ game down to one aspect. Yes, he’s a powerhouse who can create a breakaway with either a runway or with a single dribble, a snarl and a flex. He’s also a transcendent passer who led the league in assists for the first time in his 17th season.

But for all the praise his all-around game gets and deserves, there’s something special about being the man who put the ball in the hoop more times than anyone else. It is the object of the game.

That journey for James continues Dec. 22 when the Lakers open the season against the Clippers inside an empty Staples Center, the 2020-21 season starting with a matchup most had hoped to see near the close of the 2019-20 NBA marathon season.

The contract extension, just like the championship trophy he hoisted in Orlando, Fla., validates the Lakers for a new generation of NBA players and fans, ones who consumed Kobe Bryant alongside Pau Gasol, not Shaquille O’Neal, and who think of “Billions” or “Ray Donovan” when you say “Showtime” and not Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Abdul-Jabbar.

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The Lakers that James signed with are not the ones he currently plays for, mired then in the middle of a rebuild with crumbs of promise surrounded by losses, lottery appearances and organizational chaos. Nope, this team is just riding another wave of winning, the kind that’s crashed over the NBA for the better part of the last 70 years.

The team he re-upped with Wednesday is brimming with confidence, talking about repeating as NBA champions as they get ready to open training camp with individual workouts before reconvening as a team full of new pieces like Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews.

“We can,” James said of repeating during an appearance on the “Road Trippin’” podcast. “It’s that simple. We absolutely can.

“… It all starts with health.”

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That’s undoubtedly an element in all of this for James too — the extra guaranteed money ensuring the Lakers will pay him nearly $200 million for five years of service — at a time when most NBA bodies begin showing signs of wear and tear.

Yes, the Lakers once gave a contract extension to a 35-year-old Kobe Bryant, but that superstar was working back from an Achilles injury while this one is trying to find shelf room for another NBA Finals MVP.

This isn’t merely saying “thanks for everything” to a star; this is saying “thanks for what we think you’re about to do.”

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That means repeated contention for championships, which the Lakers figure to be in as long as James and Anthony Davis are running the scariest pick-and-roll in the NBA. But it also means making history in a Lakers uniform, about passing Karl Malone and catching Abdul-Jabbar.

It’s what great players have done for generations as a Laker. It’s what James has already done too. If he does it again in the most iconic way possible, by becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, that $85 million will be an even bigger bargain.


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