Signing LeBron James was nothing short of a historic moment for a Lakers franchise that has been just that in its entire existence. Long led by some of the sport’s greatest icons, the 14-time All-Star’s arrival could not have come at a more perfect time, as in the last five seasons the team has been in a weary state of influx.
In that span, the organization has seen seen changes in the front office, coaching staff, and the roster, all while missing out on the playoffs in each of those seasons, culminating in a franchise-record postseason drought.
With James now in the fold, things will expectantly begin looking up for all those associated with the purple and gold. A big reason of this is not solely for the immediate production the former NBA finals MVP will provide, but also what his contract itself enables the team to do next.
The Akron native signed a four-year deal with the Lakers for $153.3 million back on July 9. According to Basketball Insider’s Eric Pincus, the terms of the deal also include a player option in James’ final year which will approximately be worth $41 million, and a 15 percent trade kicker in any potential player swap.
Of the contract details that have been released, the number of years James is committing to a team who is coming off a 35 win season is what initially caught the majority of basketball analysts off guard.
Many expected the star forward to opt for another potential 1+1 deal which have become increasingly more popular among players in NBA free agency, but James instead chose to lock himself in to what the Lakers can not only be this upcoming season, but for years ahead.
The immediate benefits are apparent with adding a player of James’ caliber to the roster, but there are several other underlying long-term advantages that now arise from a roster construction perspective with James secured for the future.
For one, it allows the team to have options. Surrounded by a cast of young and inexpensive talent, the front office could easily flesh out the type of versatile and deep supporting cast that James has notably lacked in recent seasons, or simply look to flip a few of those assets for immediate proven talent.
The Lakers’ best path ultimately may just be what recent indications have shown they are leaning towards doing, which is to ride it out with their current young core plus LeBron, then expand. In terms of the dollars and cents this seems like the right move.
The team as currently constructed has potentially set themselves up for sustainable success as the group of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Moritz Wagner, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk will only make an approximately combined $22 million in the 2020-21 season (James’ guaranteed third year) whereas a player like Kevin Love will singlehandedly make $31 million in that season alone.
Those aforementioned members of the young core will also essentially be entering their individual basketball primes as LeBron reaches the final years of his deal. Whether this means an improved ability in helping take off the mountainous workload James has had to carry on his shoulders, or simply the team being strongly set up for a future after his current contract, the Lakers now have clear avenues that end with optimistic results.
Another benefit of having LeBron firmly in tow is the front office’s ability in constructing one of the most appealing upcoming free agency pitches in recent history.
Notoriously whiffing on big names in past summers — and in some cases simply on obtaining player meetings — the Lakers no longer need to scrounge for a player to be the first to put their foot through their door, as they now have one of most decorated names in history already in house.
The Lakers chose not to improve their offer in an attempt to acquire Kawhi Leonard and decided to once again continue their trend of signing players to one-year deals specifically to be players once again in free agency next summer, which potentially ranks as one of the better classes in recent history.
In a class potentially headlined by the likes of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, and DeAndre Jordan, the Lakers will find themselves in prime position to add the secondary star LeBron and the team may be seeking.
Gone will be pitches of the past dependent simply alone of the appeal of a big market and locale, as the organization is now armed with enough cap space to not only add, but sell that aforementioned star on yes, the glitz and glamor of playing in Los Angeles, but also playing alongside LeBron James and a roster flush of young talent going forward.
It is difficult to fathom a scenario where the team strikes out completely with this combination of on and off court value, but even if they do, they now have multiple outcomes in which the team will be well off.
Adding LeBron James to a team is not solely adding an elite basketball player, it is more appropriately described as adding a presence. A presence that resonates triumphantly through the locker room, league, and the city in which he resides.
The Lakers have done the hard work. They have dug themselves out of their self-inflicted woe and put themselves back into position to do some damage. James’ contract is a huge part of that, and now the only thing that comes next is reaching the summit.
Salary cap information provided by www.basketballinsiders.com