Lakers and LeBron James can begin contract-extension talks

Lakers forward LeBron James raises his arms in celebration during a game.
Lakers forward LeBron James is eligible for a two-year contract extension starting Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The window for LeBron James and the Lakers to extend his contract with the organization opened Thursday amid an offseason full of change for the franchise.

The Lakers, who have already replaced their head coach and approached free agency with a completely different strategy, can now negotiate up to a two-year extension with James worth approximately $97 million in addition to the $44.5 million he’s set to make in the final year of his current deal.

James, who turns 38 in December, can negotiate an extension through the end of next June, providing a long runway before any decision needs to be made. However, the prospect of James playing out the final year of his current contract without further agreement could turn into a significant distraction during Darvin Ham’s first year as the Lakers’ coach.


James, though, could use pending free agency as leverage, forcing the Lakers into strengthening their roster by forfeiting even more future draft picks. The Lakers, according to people with knowledge of the situation, haven’t shown interest in deals requiring them to trade both their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks. The team has also resisted taking on long-term contracts in deals.

If James were to agree to an extension, the Lakers could be more aggressive in trade discussions for players with multiple years remaining on their contracts. If James passes on a long-term deal, the team, at a minimum, has a relatively clean cap sheet next summer with only Anthony Davis and rookie Max Christie under contract. Talen Horton-Tucker and Damian Jones have player options next summer, as well.

Any clues about James’ preferences, at this point, are merely guesses.

LeBron James played in his first Drew League game in a decade Saturday, scoring 42 points and drawing legions of fans eager to see the Lakers star up close.

July 16, 2022

James, like he has been for nearly all of his 19-year career, is in the driver’s seat. Despite his age, the Lakers have seen him play at or near an MVP-level when healthy the last two seasons. He’s one of the small handful of players who automatically gives you a chance to seriously contend for titles.

Yet under current salary-cap rules, it becomes more and more financially restrictive to improve a roster, especially when forced to sign players to low-level exceptions like the taxpayer mid-level and veteran’s minimum contracts.

The Lakers have never shied from paying aging stars late into their careers, once extending Kobe Bryant‘s contract while he recovered from a torn Achilles tendon. Critics of that decision said it handcuffed the Lakers as they began to rebuild. Supporters have pointed to the Lakers’ culture, and their willingness to take care of stars, as reasons why they’re regularly a top-tier player destination.

It’s part of a pivotal summer with the Lakers trying to recapture glory. After winning a championship in 2020, the team lost in the first round of the playoffs the following season before finishing 11th in the West last season, when injuries led to James and Davis missing 26 and 42 games, respectively.


After investing heavily in experienced players last year during free agency, the Lakers moved in the opposite direction this offseason, signing younger players with higher ceilings and bigger question marks.

Friday marks a year since the Lakers upended everything in a trade for Russell Westbrook, kickstarting an offseason full of missteps and mistakes.

July 29, 2022

A potential Russell Westbrook trade could severely alter the team’s flexibility moving forward while boosting chances for winning now.

It’s a decision that’s indirectly tied to James and a possible contract extension, the Lakers getting a serious nudge in one direction or another depending on talks with James.