No athlete in the history of American sports is more synonymous with free agency than LeBron James. James has changed teams via free agency three times during his 19 years in the NBA and is leading his new franchise to a championship with every move. As he enters the twilight of his career, he has a chance to wield his power in free agency once again.
James is entering the final year of his contract with her Los Angeles Lakers. That’s him he is now eligible to sign an extension which would pay him $97.1 million over two years. If he accepts the deal, he’ll lock in the biggest career earnings in NBA history at $532 million. If he doesn’t accept, James will be an unrestricted free agent again in 2023, sparking another year of rampant speculation about his future.
James will turn 38 in December. He’s no longer the consensus best player in the NBA, but he remains comfortably in the top-10 in the sport. If James is a free agent, there will be plenty of teams around the league ready and willing to make room to sign him.
The big question is simple: what does LeBron want from the end of his career? There are a few different ideas floating around at this point.
LeBron James wants to play with his son Brony
James has publicly stated many times that he wants to play with his oldest child, LeBron James Jr., also known as Brony James, before he retires. Here’s what he had to say during All Star Weekend in February:
“My senior year will be playing with my son,” James said. “Wherever Bronny is, I’ll be there. I would do anything to play with my son for a year. It’s not about the money at the moment.”
Bronny James will be a high school senior this upcoming season at Sierra Canyon in LA. It is currently ranked at No. 43 overall prospect in his class by the 247 Sports composite. Read the full breakdown of James Jr.’s skill set and trajectory. to the NBA here.
No one knows what Bronny’s next step will be after high school. He has scholarship offers from nearly every major college program, including Duke and Kentucky. He could potentially play for the G League Ignite program that helped develop Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga and Dyson Daniels into top-10 NBA draft picks. He could spend the year training for the draft or play in an alternative program like Overtime Elite.
It’s too early to tell what James’ draft stock will be, but right now he’s unlikely to be a top-10 pick in 2024. For now, I’d project him as an early second-round pick, but of course that could change. If LeBron is truly willing to follow his son wherever he gets drafted, regardless of the money, it’s possible that Brony’s stock will see a significant rise in the pre-draft process.
LeBron James Could Try To Match Michael Jordan’s 6 Championships
James has been compared to Michael Jordan since he was in high school. As his storied career draws to a close, most agree that Jordan and James are the two greatest players in NBA history. While there is certainly a strong case for James as the GOAT, it seems like a large portion of the fan base won’t think he could pass MJ until he matches or surpasses his six championships.
Currently, James has four championship rings: two with the Miami Heatone with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and one with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s likely to make his next free agency decision based on which team gives him the best chance to win a championship, as he did in the past when he signed with Miami.
While James won a championship with the Lakers on the bubble in 2020, the past two years haven’t been promising for Los Angeles. The Lakers were eliminated in the first round of the 2021 playoffs and then missed the playoffs entirely in 2022. If James doesn’t believe he can realistically compete for a title by staying with the Lakers, would he really re-sign?
LeBron James may want to return to Cleveland
There is already speculation that James could return to Cleveland for a third time when he is a free agent in 2023. The Cavs have built a great young core since James left for the Lakers. Last year’s rookie Evan Mobley could be a future superstar, while teammates Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen were named All-Stars last year. All three players are between 21-24 years old.
James said “the door is not closed” on his return to Cleveland during the 2022 All-Star Weekend:
“The door is not closed on that,” James said The Athlete on Saturday after the East team practices on Cleveland State’s campus. “I’m not saying I’m going to come back and play, I don’t know. I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t even know when I’m free.”
It would make sense if LeBron wanted to end his career in Cleveland for emotional reasons. Of course, the Cavs would also give James a better title shot than the Lakers and a chance to play with Brony.
Cleveland’s rebuild is sorely lacking in a power forward, and there’s no one better to fill that role than James. According to The Athletic, Cleveland is “not moving forward with the intent of taking LeBron a third time.” The Cavs could have as much as $30 million in cap space next summer with the opportunity to generate more.
If LeBron doesn’t accept the Lakers’ extension, there will be plenty of rumors tying him to Cleveland whether it’s realistic or not.
LeBron James would like to stay in Los Angeles
James has his business interests in Los Angeles. He has moved his family there, with middle son Bryce James entering his sophomore year at Sierra Canyon this season. Even if the Lakers don’t give LeBron the best chance to win another title, he’s likely content to finish his career in Los Angeles with the hopes of playing alongside Brony.
LeBron James may wield his power in free agency once again to get Lakers to trade Russell Westbrook
James has never asked for a trade during his career, but he’s gotten what he wants incredibly effectively by taking advantage of the threat of leaving in free agency. LeBron left Cleveland the first time because they couldn’t build a championship roster around him. He left Miami in part because owner Micky Arison used the Mike Miller amnesty clause to avoid going too far on the luxury tax. He left Cleveland for the second time after Kyrie Irving was forced to Boston and the roster around him began to crumble.
What does James want from Los Angeles this time? It’s not hard to decipher his intentions: LeBron wants the Lakers to trade Russell Westbrook for Irving. LeBron and Westbrook sat on opposite sides of the gym during Summer League and had no interaction. Irving is potentially on the trade block entering the final year of his contract with the Brooklyn Nets.
Los Angeles could trade 2027 and 2029 first-round picks for Irving, but the organization was reportedly reluctant to do so. Many saw this tweet from Lakers owner Jeanie Buss on July 4 as a shot at LeBron urging the Lakers to trade future picks for Irving:
I miss KB. He would understand and explain everything I am not allowed to do. He was honestly the best Laker of all time. He understood the team above himself. This means that your rewards would come if you valued the team’s goals above your own, then everything would fall into place. Everyone can answer.
— Jeanie Buss (@JeanieBuss) July 4, 2022
With Westbrook on the roster next year, the Lakers have no chance at a championship. If they can move him for Irving, it’s possible the Lakers could be championship contenders if James, Irving and Anthony Davis all remain available. Of course, that’s a big if.
All things being equal, it looks like James would re-sign with the Lakers, compete for a championship and play a season with Brony. It’s the whole “championship contention” angle that seems like the biggest obstacle for LA right now.
It looks like James is still good enough to be the best player on a championship team, but at this stage in his career he needs a lot of help. Can he get it in LA? Would he rather play with Bronny at the cost of realistically competing for another title? It all boils down to what LeBron wants at the end of his career. His decision to extend his contract will be the first big sign.