The Los Angeles Lakers‘ frustrating 2021-22 campaign has shifted the dynamic toward long-term concerns. All of which center on LeBron James‘ future beyond his current contract that runs through next season. James’ recent remarks about possibly rejoining the Cleveland Cavaliers and potentially playing with his son Bronny James have further fueled uncertainty.
The star forward hasn’t voiced his sentiment directly, but his subtle comments suggest he isn’t happy. All that places significant pressure on the franchise to figure it out, or losing the future Hall of Famer before he retires will become a reality.
James’ fate in Los Angeles may ultimately wind up decided by what he does with his contract situation next offseason.
Lakers’ shortcomings are showing the franchise’s true colors
The Lakers are rolling through another season where championship contention feels like an unrealistic outcome.
Injuries and an underperforming roster around LeBron James have given way to that notion. As much as the 37-year-old is proving he remains an ageless wonder, the team around him isn’t providing the lift to even vie for a secure playoff spot.
Instead, Los Angeles sits amid serious uncertainty with the possibility that they can fall short in the play-in tournament. The franchise’s ineptitude has been on full display through the lack of trade deadline movement and cohesive roster.
However, the Lakers’ future may come down to one decision James makes this upcoming summer.
LeBron James’ Lakers future may sit tied to his contract decision next offseason
The Lakers may not publicly acknowledge it, but LeBron James’s contract situation is becoming more prominent.
The 37-year-old is under a deal through the 2022-23 campaign, leaving him open for free agency after his 20th season. He recently voiced that he’s unsure of his future beyond his current contract, fueling the possibility of rejoining the Cavaliers or another franchise.
He hasn’t aired any lack of commitment to the Lakers, but his expiring contract sits unresolved. All that has led Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report to voice on the Halftime app that he believes James will depart Los Angeles after next season if he doesn’t ink an extension this upcoming summer.
James can add more years to his contract, but that hinges on the Lakers proving to him that they are committed to building a championship contender. Those efforts will have to start with finding a way from moving off Russell Westbrook. His massive remaining contract off the books would free up $44.2 million to build a more balanced roster.
Meanwhile, The Lakers don’t appear to want to budge off general manager Rob Pelinka, but that must translate to him working his magic by restructuring the supporting cast. James is still playing at an elite level and wants to maximize his remaining window, and if Los Angeles can’t do that, why would he sign an extension?
The franchise wants to keep him for the rest of his career, making reshaping the roster priority No. 1 to influencing James to extend his stay. If not, the Lakers could be headed toward a future without the star forward much sooner than they want.
Expect the Lakers to bend to LeBron James’ will
As much as the Lakers attempt to demonstrate that they are a prideful franchise, the organization will bend to James’ will.
Since he arrived in 2018, the organization has involved him heavily in roster decisions. James played a pivotal part in pushing the franchise to trade for Anthony Davis. Pelinka has also run free-agent additions by the 18-time All-Star and now Davis over the last couple of offseasons.
Any expectations that the Lakers will operate in another fashion would be foolish to believe. James is still playing at a high level with the ability to lead a well-structured roster to potential NBA title contention. Los Angeles doesn’t want to move additional first-round draft selections, but that is what it may take to facilitate major roster upheaval.
All those factors further suggest that the Lakers will be in store for another busy offseason to convince James to extend his tenure. Time will tell what unfolds, but the franchise knows what to do to amend the situation.