Even LeBron James’ harshest critics have to admit to a basic fact of his career: The man has always lived up to his contractual obligations.
In 19 NBA seasons, James never asked for a trade, only joining a new team after becoming an unrestricted free agent. Of course, if he can use the threat of free agency to keep the GM in win-win mode, the request isn’t really necessary — he’s probably gearing up to use that strategy again.
As of Thursday, Aug. 4, James, currently only under contract for the 2022-23 season, is eligible to re-sign with the Lakers. The deal, which could be worth $97 million over two years, gives James now guaranteed money (not something he needs) while Los Angeles can continue to build a team around him.
However, the four-time NBA MVP could be in negotiations for an extension at a later date. The Lakers should hope James doesn’t go down this path, because history shows he won’t hesitate to walk away if he feels his team has reached a hard cap.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers, Part 1
- Contract #1: Four years, $18.8 million
- Contract #2: Four years, $60.4 million
Not long after, James became one of the best players in the league after Cleveland selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. He was an All-Star in six of his first seven seasons and won back-to-back MVP awards in 2008-09 and 2009-10.
Despite James’ consistent performance and the Cavaliers having a solid regular season, they never got to the finish line. They faced overpowered opponents in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (2006, 2008, 2010), Eastern Conference Finals (2009) and NBA Finals (2007).
James feels he’s doing his best on a tedious roster — Cavaliers last team that round consisted of Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Antoine Jamison and Shaquille O’Neal Composition, they were past their prime, in key roles — so he turned around and gave up his player option, and famously (or infamously) brought his talent to South Beach via a sign-and-trade.
LeBron James and the Heat
- Contract: Six years, $109.8 million
Not one, not two, not… oh wait, it ended up being two champions.
Aside from the “decision” and “Heat welcome party” jokes, James has been very successful in Miami. He collected two more MVP trophies and won his first two career titles in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
The Heat went 54-28 to the NBA Finals with James’ team last season, but they were beaten by the Spurs in five games. Realizing that Miami’s team is getting older and slower, James sees an exciting opportunity in Cleveland.
James, who said in September 2013 that he was “willing to spend the rest of his career in Miami,” exercised his option to terminate his contract early and was freed in 2014.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers, Part II
- Contract #1: Two years, $42.2 million
- Contract #2: Two years, $47 million
- Contract #3: Three years, $99.9 million
Each of the trades listed above included a player option — all three of which James declined — forcing the Cavaliers’ front office to explore all avenues to improve the roster. To their credit, team owner Dan Gilbert has spent the money, and general manager David Griffin, now executive vice president of basketball operations for the Pelicans, has done an impressive job with the assets at his disposal. Work.
The Cavaliers beat the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals to give Cleveland its first major professional sports title since 1964. However, the Cavaliers couldn’t match the Warriors for the next two championship series, and James again carried a limited unit. (The departure of Kyrie Irving certainly didn’t help, and Gilbert screwed up Griffin’s contract negotiations in 2017.)
James, who was going to end his career in Cleveland, is on his way — again.
LeBron James and the Lakers
- Contract #1: Four years, $153.3 million
- Contract #2: Two years, $85.7 million
After signing several short-term contracts with the Cavaliers, James became active with the Lakers. They rewarded Anthony Davis for his faith by acquiring Anthony Davis in 2019, allowing Los Angeles to win a championship in the NBA “bubble.”
Less than two years after the title race, the Lakers were in poor shape. They’re coming off one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, and it’s an absolute mess for Russell Westbrook. When they start a new campaign with this roster, they simply cannot be considered legitimate competitors.
A blockbuster trade could change James’ view of the franchise’s future. James’ family and business interests should also play a big role in his decision-making process, as NBA insider Mark Stein recently reported that James is “very happy in Los Angeles despite the difficult back-to-back seasons with the Lakers.”
But from a basketball perspective, we’ve seen how the story unfolds. If James keeps his options, his team should be uncomfortable.