The Los Angeles Lakers were the favorites all along to land superstar LeBron James in free agency, and they were able to do just that.
James agreed to sign with the Lakers Sunday evening on a four-year, $153.3 million contract that contains and opt-out clause after the third year. James’ agency, Klutch Sports, was first to announce that James had reached a final decision.
The Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, and James’ now former team in the Cleveland Cavaliers were all believed to be in the running for James’ services, until Lakers president of basketball operations won James’ over in a meeting in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Johnson, who is a Lakers legend himself, had a fellow Lakers legend in Kobe Bryant approve of the transaction via social media:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) July 2, 2018
For the Lakers to sign James, it had been reported that they would need to acquire a star player in advance to entice James’ decision, especially when Houston and Philadelphia both had two star players of there own with James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston, and Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in Philadelphia. However, that obviously wasn’t needed for James, but that doesn’t mean the Lakers won’t be looking at landing a star.
Disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star small forward Kawhi Leonard wants to play for the Lakers according to various media reports, but the price to acquire him won’t be cheap. It’s likely that if the Lakers were to trade for Leonard, Brandon Ingram could be the centerpiece of the deal going back to San Antonio, with other players/draft picks involved.
Los Angeles understands that their roster right now is still not good enough to knock off the juggernaut Golden State Warriors, and while the signing of James absorbed a hefty portion of cap space, there is plenty of room for Johnson and the Lakers to be able to maneuver around and supplement the roster. They have already re-signed guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and have added Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee for bench pieces.
It won’t be a surprise if the Lakers trade for Leonard, but it also wouldn’t be a surprised if they went that route again to open up cap space. Unloading the contract of Luol Deng could be a way to do that, but the organization would likely have to give any team acquiring Deng’s contract a useful asset back in return.
Here’s the full breakdown of James’ contract, courtesy of Spotrac:
*specifies James’ opt-out clause
James opt-out of his contract with the Cavaliers on June 29, which would’ve paid him the $35.6 million he was able to land with the Lakers. It’s extremely likely that the Lakers could be the last stop for James in his historic NBA career, but he has shown no signs of slowing down now, so you never know.
The 2017-2018 season ended for James in heartbreak once again as he couldn’t lead the Cavaliers past the Warriors, but it will be remembered as one of the best seasons of his career when it is all said and done. He appeared in all 82 regular season games, and averaged 27.5 points, 9.1 assists, 8.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 54% from the field and 36% from three-point range to go with a 73% free-throw success rate.
This is the longest contract James has signed with a team since signing a six-year deal with the Miami Heat back in 2010 after his first stint in Cleveland, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. Windhorst also noted that James never signed a contract longer than three-years with the Cavaliers, which could be due to his shaky relationship with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.
Gilbert put out the following statement about James’ departure:
“We will always remember the evening of June 19, 2016 as the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, ended the 52-year drought delivering the long elusive championship that many thought they would never see… A championship that united generations of Clevelanders, both living and passed.
Virtually anyone with roots in Northeast Ohio paused and felt the memories of the past and the utter joy that the burden of the so-called ‘curse’ was finally a thing of the past. Cleveland, Ohio was the home of a championship team for the first time since 1964. Words do not express the meaning and the feeling this accomplishment brought to the people of Northeast Ohio.
None of this would have happened if LeBron James did not agree to come back home and lead the Cavaliers to the promised land. The entire Cavaliers franchise thanks LeBron for that precious moment and for all of the excitement he delivered as he led our team to four straight NBA Finals appearances.
LeBron is a family man, first. We wish his kids, his wife Savannah, his mother Gloria, and LeBron himself nothing but the best in the years and decades ahead. LeBron’s connection to Akron, Cleveland and all of Northeast Ohio will most certainly endure as his commitment to the region and his support of many important causes has been impactful to so many kids and families.
LeBron, you came home and delivered the ultimate goal. Nothing but appreciation and gratitude for everything you put into every moment you spent in a Cavaliers uniform. We look forward to the retirement of the famous #23 Cavs jersey one day down the line…”
The signing of James is the biggest free agent signing in Lakers history since Shaquille O’Neal in 1996, and this signing will for sure be the biggest in terms of marketing. James will be able to build his brand as a superstar basketball player, and a savvy business man off the court. While it will be about competing for a championship as always for James, there is not one negative about Los Angeles for James in his personal life, as James has two homes in Los Angeles.
The Lakers will make the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-2013 season, and James will attempt to do something no other legend has done in NBA history; lead three separate teams to a championship.
It is going to be one fun NBA season.
Photo: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images