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Lakers Star Eligible for No-Trade Clause But It May Not Matter

LeBron James, Anthony Davis, DeAngelo Russell all potential Lakers trade candidates.

The highly decorated LeBron James will be eligible for a no-trade clause in his next contract, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks and Dave McMenamin. In light of reports that the Golden State Warriors approached the Los Angeles Lakers about trading for James, this is a significant development in his storyline. However, the 39-year-old can only be granted this privilege if he re-signs with the Lakers.

All of which begs the question: is it enough to keep James in purple and gold?

LeBron James Eligible for No-Trade Clause In New Contract

As noted by ESPN’s Bobby Marks and Dave McMenamin, LeBron James can become the first player in NBA history to make $500 million in career earnings next season. This is the case whether he picks up his $51.4 million player option with the Los Angeles Lakers, or signs a new contract with them.

With a Jun. 29 deadline to decide on his player option, James very well could foray into free agency.

That may not exactly mean James is available. In a tried and true method to put pressure on the front offices of champion contenders, James has declined player options in the past and re-upped on 1+1-year contracts. In these situations, while he may acknowledge other teams’ interests, he isn’t truly being bid on by interested franchises. To that point, James is “eligible to sign a two-year, $112 million extension with the Lakers starting Aug. 18.”

However, there’s a sense that this time around, James really could leave the Lakers.

For one, L.A. doesn’t have much future flexibility due to the CBA’s roster-building restrictions for teams overly reliant on using their pocketbooks to build championship contenders. That may be the most significant factor in James deciding to leave as a free agent. In 2014 and 2018, James left the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers respectively for similar reasons.

Secondly, James has had less success with the Lakers than he’s had with any other team. From 2011 to 2018, James reached the NBA Finals every year, winning three championships in that span. Since joining the Lakers in 2018, he’s reached the Finals once (winning a championship in that lone appearance). L.A. is now 193-141 with James, their .578 win percentage is solid but relatively unimpressive.

Between those two realities, it’s not difficult to envision James leaving Hollywood.

No-Trade Clause, No Benefit?

While having a no-trade clause is nice, in this scenario, it’s all but irrelevant.

LeBron James is unlikely to be traded unless he or the Los Angeles Lakers are struggling. To that point, James is unlikely to want to be handcuffed to a team that’s on their last legs just as much as L.A. is unlikely to want to commit a sizable salary to a player producing at a substandard level. The Lakers faced that challenge with Kobe Bryant at the end of his career. Financially strapped, Los Angeles was unable to build a championship contender around Bryant that would have allowed him to ride into the sunset.

LeBron James to the Knicks?

LeBron James is no stranger to putting on a show, and before the 2023-24 NBA trade deadline, he did just that.

Following a victory over the New York Knicks on Feb. 3, James walked around donning a towel with their logo.

Addressing the media before the game, James admitted that he considered signing with the Knicks in 2010. On Instagram, he would dub the Knicks home court his “absolute favorite playground.”

Maybe it was a reaction to rumors that the Los Angeles Lakers had been willing enough to trade him that they engaged James’ agent about the topic. At the time, the Lakers were also racking up losses at the time, much to his frustration. Many will remember James’ cryptic tweet; the one with all the sands at the bottom of the hourglass.

That being said, there’s a legitimate chance that James has seriously been considering a future elsewhere. After all, there are 24 hours in a day. Even a man as busy as James has time to fantasize.

As one of the teams with the assets and cap space to make a play for James this offseason, the Knicks are a viable option to be his next and perhaps final free-agent destination. A Big Three featuring him, Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randle would be dominant, offensively. James may even be able to bring Anthony Davis with him, with Randle heading back to the team that drafted him in 2014. A return East could lead to more trips to the NBA Finals than he’s had out West as well.

This offseason, James may very well remain in Los Angeles. However, it would be foolhardy to say it’s a done deal. Especially with the lure of the Knicks looming in the background.

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