Extension of LeBron James: the Lakers star should not rush the decision

james lebron is eligible to sign a contract extension with the Lakers on Thursday.

Don’t hold your breath for this announcement.

James looks unlikely to sign an extension this week. Or the week after. Or the week after. Why? For starters, he doesn’t have to. Thursday is not a deadline. It’s the first day James can sign the extension. The last day? June 30th. Which means James has about ten months to agree to another two-year, $97.1 million extension. If he doesn’t, he’ll hit free agency… when he can sign a three-year contract with the Lakers– or any other NBA team – next summer.

Frankly, there are few advantages to an extension. Financial security? James doesn’t need it. He’s a billionaire, according to Forbes, the first and only active NBA player to reach that milestone. Should James suffer a career-ending injury — and with modern medicine, those kinds of on-court injuries no longer exist — he won’t miss out on his Lakers income. Not to mention James’ desire to play with his eldest son, Bronny, who under current rules will become draft eligible in 2024.

Also, with free will comes leverage. In Cleveland, James was a pioneer when it came to short-term contracts. By signing two-year deals – with the second a player option, effective injury protection – James was able to exert maximum leverage. He was able to push the riders to spend, which they did. Say what you will about Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, but when LeBron was on the roster, Cleveland spent whatever it took to build a winner around him.

The Lakers are spending — LA had the sixth-highest payroll in the NBA last season, according to Spotrac, paying a luxury tax of more than $40 million — but not indiscriminately. The decision not to bring Alex Caruso, who signed a four-year, $37 million contract with the Bulls last summer, was largely financial. Caruso probably wouldn’t have made the Lakers a title contender last season, not with Davis injured and Westbrook struggling to adapt, but his two-way play would have been invaluable off the bench.

As a free agent, James, even passively, can push. Spend or risk losing me. Hand out future draft picks, or risk losing me. Craft the roster with the players I want to play with…or risk losing me.

So why sign an extension?

To avoid the distraction that accompanies not sign it, maybe.

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And to put an end once and for all to speculation about a third round of service in Cleveland.

Let’s start with the Lakers. There is a new head coach. There is a revised list. There is a superstar (Anthony Davis) hoping to bounce back from an injury-plagued season and another (Russell Westbrook) who may not want to be there at all. There are a number of potential storms brewing in Los Angeles. The Lakers don’t need another.

That’s what a James without an extension could be. Whether it’s Cleveland, Miami or Cleveland (again), LeBron’s contract years have been…interesting. Publicly, James will try to end speculation about his future. But that won’t do much to stop him. Each three-game losing streak will trigger a new wave of questions. Every word of his mouth will be scrutinized for clues of dissatisfaction. If LA struggles early, SHOULD THE LAKERS TRADE LEBRON will be a regular chyron on morning talk shows.

Then there’s Cleveland. The Cavaliers have a good team. They have a rising star in Darius Garland. They have a potential superstar in Evan Mobley. They have a young supporting cast which includes Jarrett AllenIsaac Okoro and (presumably) Collin Sexton. On paper, the Cavs are a small forward far from a title contender. And next summer they will have the cap space to do a run at one.

It’s not 2014. The incentive to return to northeast Ohio won’t be as strong. James delivered a championship in Cleveland. He’s kept the promises he made when the Cavs drafted him first overall in 2003. Plus, James really loves Los Angeles. His children are enrolled in schools in the region. He clearly loves the Southern California lifestyle and the business opportunities that come with it.

But James wants to win. What if the Lakers can’t trade Westbrook? Or if Davis, who has played 76 games over the past two seasons, is struggling to stay healthy in this one? Laugh at (another) return to Cleveland, but James, who turns 38 in December, isn’t spending the twilight of his career with a team that doesn’t give him a legitimate shot at a championship.

A lot can change in the coming months. The Laker could arrange a Westbrook-Kyrie Irving trade, reuniting James with his former teammate. The younger, more athletic roster LA has assembled around James could improve a defense that finished in the bottom third of the NBA last season. Davis could return to his All-NBA form. The Lakers don’t look like title contenders right now. But with good health and a little maneuvering, they could be.

If that happens, James doesn’t leave Los Angeles. #LoveLA was the hashtag used by James on Wednesday in a tweet honoring the late Vin Scully. And he does. But a Cleveland reunion once appeared laughable when James was winning championships in Miami. With the Lakers in flux, another cannot be ruled out.

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