CLEVELAND — As of Thursday, LeBron James is eligible to sign a new contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers. And how the Akron native proceeds to approach a potential deal could have far-reaching consequences for teams across the league, including the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Currently entering the final season of the two-year extension he signed with the Lakers in 2020, James is currently eligible to sign a $97.1 million extension, which would keep him under contract in Los Angeles through the 2024-25 NBA season. But while the 4-time MVP and the Lakers reportedly had a "productive" discussion on Thursday, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, it's worth noting that an agreement has yet to be reached.
Considering Los Angeles is almost assuredly offering James the maximum contract allowed under the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), that could suggest that the 4-time NBA champion is seeking more flexibility than a two-year extension would offer.
So what are James' other options? That's where the Cavs come in.
Should James and the Lakers ultimately fail to reach any sort of extension this offseason, it won't take long for speculation regarding a potential return to Cleveland to ramp up. After all, without an extension, the 18-time All-Star would become a free agent next summer -- and the Cavs currently project to possess enough cap space to sign him.
James only fueled such speculation at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Cleveland earlier this year when he referred to himself as the Cavs' third All-Star alongside Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen and told Jason Lloyd of The Athletic that he hasn't ruled out a potential return to his former team.
"The door’s not closed on that,” James told Lloyd. “I’m not saying I’m coming back and playing, I don’t know. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t even know when I’m free."
Barring an extension, James will be "free" next summer. But even if he does sign a new deal, it might not rule out a third stint with the Cavs.
In lieu of the two-year extension that he is eligible to sign, the 37-year-old could sign a one-year deal with a player option, which would give him the ability to become a free agent in 2024. That timing is important, as it would mark the first year that James' oldest son, Bronny, would be eligible for the NBA Draft, setting the stage for the 13-time All-NBA first-team selection to accomplish one of his biggest goals.
For years now, James has stated a desire to play alongside his son, who is a four-star recruit at the Sierra Canyon School. By timing up the end of his contract with the first year that Bronny is draft-eligible, James can wait to see where his son is selected before joining him as a free agent.
“My last year will be played with my son,” James told Lloyd. “Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year. It’s not about the money at that point.”
In other words, even if James signs an extension with the Lakers this offseason, he remains open to playing for another team in the future. And if the Cavs -- who, unlike the Lakers, own the rights to their own 2024 first-round pick -- are interested in (another) homecoming, they know what it will take to make it happen.