Well, there are new stresses in the Lakers-LeBron/Klutch relationship. The team reportedly blames Klutch for the disastrous Russell Westbrook trade. Before saying he wants to spend the rest of his career with the Lakers, LeBron took plenty of passive-aggressive shots at Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and even openly discussed returning to the Cavaliers or playing elsewhere with his son. That was viewed as just the start of escalating tension. LeBron will be eligible for a contract extension this summer, and he might not sign it.
Would the Lakers actually trade him this time, before he hits 2023 unrestricted free agency?
If LeBron James ultimately decides against signing an extension with the Lakers in August, sources say Buss wouldn’t see his desire to play out the final season of his contract as a reason to consider trading him.
LeBron not signing the extension would give the Lakers incentive to trade him. Every team with a star entering a contract year should at least consider getting assets before he can walk in free agency. Though far from dispositive, LeBron rejecting the extension would indicate he wants to leave Los Angeles.
But LeBron forgoing the extension wouldn’t be the only reason to trade him. Namely: The Lakers just went 33-49, and LeBron is 37. They might not win while he remains in his prime.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons not to trade LeBron, even if he doesn’t sign the extension. A team with LeBron and Anthony Davis has championship upside next year. If Los Angeles wins the 2023 title, it doesn’t matter what LeBron chooses afterward. Keeping him will have been well worth it.
Buss was desperate for a star before LeBron arrived. She even fired her own brother to attract LeBron to Los Angeles. Everything about how she has run the organization says she prioritizes creating a welcoming environment for stars – which means not preemptively trading one. That’d send the wrong message to the next star considering the Lakers.
If LeBron leaves Los Angeles, it will almost certainly be his decision, not the team’s.