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LeBron James has not committed to contract extension, leaving the Los Angeles Lakers hanging

Vincent Frank

Los Angeles Lakers star and four-time NBA champion LeBron James has just one year remaining on his current contract with the team. There had been speculation leading up to the 2021-22 season that James would ultimately sign an extension this summer and tie himself to Southern California for the long run.

Following an ugly 49-loss season, that commitment has yet to come from James verbally with free agency slated to start in roughly two weeks.

“The Lakers are stuck without a commitment from James, whose contract expires after the 2022-23 season. Competing executives and agents do not expect the team to get clarity from James ahead of the draft and free agency.”

Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus on LeBron James contract situation

Without a pick in next week’s NBA Draft, Los Angeles really doesn’t need a commitment before then. Though, it is interesting that he committed verbally to his current two-year, $85.66 million extension before free agency opening up in 2020.

For new head coach Darvin Ham and Co., some clarity would be really nice from James’ camp at Klutch Sports before June 30. That’s when free agency is slated to open up. The all-time NBA great has given mixed signals in the past as it relates to a long-term future in Los Angeles.

Related: LeBron James and NBA’s highest-paid players

LeBron James contract situation could impact Los Angeles Lakers summer plans

Los-Angeles-Lakers-LeBron-James
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

If the Lakers don’t get a commitment from James ahead of the start of free agency, general manager Rob Pelinka might very well change his philosophy.

As Pincus noted in his report, Los Angeles’ brass might be hesitant to hand out multi-year deals or take back said contracts in trade for the fear that James could leave in the summer of 2023.

As is typically the case with a franchise like the Lakers, there’s some major drama coming off a disastrous season. That apparently includes issues between James’ camp and owner Jeannie Buss. Her relationship with a former Lakers coach in Phil Jackson who is reportedly pushing for Los Angeles to trade James adds another element to this.

“I’ve heard that Phil would like LeBron traded. I’ve just heard that, but I’ve got nothing to back that up. No on-the-record stuff to back that up. I do know that Phil would like to keep Westbrook and try to make that work with him.”

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times on LeBron James situation (May 16, 2022)

Buss has made it clear that she’s had a long-term friendship with Jackson and certainly values his advice. Remember, the all-time great head coach also played a role behind the scenes in helping Los Angeles come to the decision that Ham is best suited to replace the recently-fired Frank Vogel on the bench.

With all of that as a backdrop, the Lakers have to make a decision here. Do they go all in for the 2022-23 season without a commitment from King James or do they look to a futue without the 37-year-old star?

  • LeBron James stats (2021-22): 30.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 6.2 APG, 52% shooting, 36% 3-point

Already well over the salary cap, Los Angeles only boasts the $6.34 million taxpayer mid-level exception to add a player in free agency. While the team can split it up between two players, that doesn’t move the needle too much. In addition to this, the Lakers have a ton of impending free agents that James himself played a role in signing last summer.

Los Angeles Lakers free agents

  • Dwight Howard
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Malik Monk
  • Avery Bradley
  • Kent Bazemore

Outside of Monk, these veterans didn’t do much for the Lakers in 2021-22. As for Monk, he’s likely looking at a much larger contract in free agency this summer. At the very least, he’s not going to settle for the $6.34 million taxpayer mid-level exception.

What does this all mean? The Lakers are already behind the proverbial eight-ball. They are reportedly intent on keeping high-priced point guard Russell Westbrook after some major struggles in his first season with Los Angeles. Most of that logic has to do with Russ’s nonexistent trade market and the Lakers’ unwillingness to attach some of the very little draft capital they possess.

This latter point is interesting in that there was a big ado between LeBron James and the Lakers following the in-season February 10 NBA trade deadline. Los Angeles was inactive, sending a clear signal that it isn’t going to mortgage its future as a way for James to save face.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this situation plays out over the next few weeks. Without a firm commitment from LeBron James, we can easily envision the Lakers refusing to bounce ideas off of him — leading to a further rift.