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Lakers Star Makes Power Play, What Is The Impact?

The Los Angeles Lakers may lose one of its core players this offseason. According to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times, LeBron James is expected to decline his $51.4 million player option for the upcoming season and become an unrestricted free agent. James has until June 29 to officially decide his next move.

Lakers Star Makes Power Play, What Is The Impact

While James’s opting out was not unexpected, Woike said that the 40-year-old will ultimately elect to remain with the Lakers. So, if James will remain with the Lakers, why would he opt out?

Despite his advanced age, James is coming off a fantastic 2023-24 season. In 71 appearances last season, James averaged 25.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.3 assists, and 1.3 steals a game. He also averaged 2.1 treys while compiling shooting splits of 54.0/41.0/75.0%.

James compiled 27 double-doubles and five triple-doubles this past season. He was also selected to the all-NBA third team and named the No. 10 clutch player.

James gains two important rights by becoming an unrestricted free agent. He is now eligible for a no-trade clause as he has spent at least four seasons with the Lakers and more than eight years of service overall. Per league rules, no-trade clauses can not be added to existing contracts in extensions.

Why Would James Want a No-Trade Clause?

Despite James playing well despite his advanced age, it is reasonable to think that James will slow down eventually. James will turn 41 at the end of the year. Let’s say James gets off to a slow start or constantly suffers minor injuries, and the Lakers are eighth in the Western Conference or worse at the trade deadline either this year or next.

Instead of paying James the $20 million or more, depending on the number of years, the Lakers decide it is in their best interest to move on. James would still have value around the league. Golden State reportedly inquired by acquiring James this past trade deadline.

With the no-trade clause, James would have the right to refuse a trade or dictate where he ends up.

The second benefit of opting out is that James can leave if the Lakers don’t meet his demands. James would have several teams lined up if he were seriously considering leaving the Lakers. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, and Phoenix Suns come immediately to mind. The Philadelphia 76ers and the Warriors probably would have some interest.

Sam Quinn of CBS Sports also mentioned the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City as possible suitors, as both teams have a lot of cap space. But I think both the Magic and Thunder would pass.

Here is the thing: James is ineligible to sign a contract for more than three years due to the Over 38 Rule. However, that may not be an issue, as he had previously said his plan was only to play for a couple of years.

James Opting Out Could Benefit Lakers

Another previously discussed benefit is that by opting out, James may be increasing the draft stock of his son, Bronny James. Teams that believe they could lure James to switch teams by drafting Bronny, who is expected to be drafted late in the second round by the Lakers, may take a chance earlier than the Los Angeles pick at No. 55.

Bronny James has limited his pre-draft workout to the Lakers and Suns.

James could also opt-out to help the Lakers, as he could renegotiate a more team-friendly deal. While James would not be expected to take a major “cut,” his taking less would only help the Lakers, who have missed the or failed to get out of the first round in three of the past four years.

Los Angeles has 12 players under contract with salaries totaling $178.7 million, including James and D’Angelo Russell ($18.6 million). It is believed that Russell will opt out. Cam Reddish and Jaxson Hayes also have player options, but they are small, and both players are expected to exercise them.

If Russell opts out and James takes a two-year deal worth around $40 million per year, the Lakers’ salary for their 11 players would be $148 million. Therefore, the Lakers would be around $30 million below the first tax apron and have $40 million to spend before hitting the second apron. They own the No. 17 and No. 55 picks.

With that money, the Lakers should be able to find some excellent players, although it is possible their best route to improvement is through trades. The Lakers have been linked to Dejounte Murray, Trae Young, Mitchell Robinson, and Donovan Mitchell, among others.


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