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Why the Lakers can’t trade LeBron right now, explained

Even if LeBron James and the Lakers wanted to find a trade for him after his most recent comments about wanting to play competitive basketball again, NBA rules don’t permit such a deal... for now.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Miami Heat Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are in a bit of a crisis. With Anthony Davis out indefinitely, their Wednesday loss to the Miami Heat dropping them to the sixth-worst record in the NBA (14-21), and LeBron James making it clear he’s sick and tired of playing losing basketball, there are sure to be a fresh round of calls wondering a) what the hell this team is doing and b) if they should make a trade (or two) and blow this thing up.

But while LeBron’s most pointed comments yet in a string of recent front office subtweets definitely suggest he would prefer Rob Pelinka, Kurt Rambis and Co. make a deal to improve the roster, anyone thinking they should go the opposite direction and ship The King out, get some assets back and rebuild should be aware that the Lakers are legally barred from doing so for this entire season.

This is not because of a no-trade clause James could waive or any other contractual restriction that the team or he could get around. Instead, the Lakers are actually restricted from trading James because of the date he signed his extension (Aug. 17) and how much it was for (two years, $97.1 million).

That second number means that James will be getting $46.9 million for the 2023-24 season, and $50.6 million in the ‘24-’25 campaign, which are more than 5% raises off of his current salary. And, as Bleacher Report cap expert Eric Pincus explained in a post for Sports Business Classroom earlier this year outlining who can and cannot be traded (and when) after an extension, the NBA bylaws prevent James from being dealt this season as a result:

When a veteran signs an extension, the size and length of the extension determine trade eligibility. Teams are permitted to extend-and-trade players, but such extensions are limited to no more than a five percent raise and two additional seasons.

Anything larger, like LeBron James’ extension with the Los Angeles Lakers, includes a six-month no-trade restriction. James signed on August 18 and six months puts his trade eligibility past the February deadline.

As Pincus alludes to, James is not eligible to be dealt until Feb. 18, 2023, per Spotrac, which die-hard NBA fans will recognize is nine days past the 2023 NBA trade deadline (Feb. 9).

And before anyone cries too many tears for James as a victim of some little-known CBA quirk, it is worth noting that had he signed his extension the first day he was eligible (Aug. 4) he would have been trade-eligible this year. Whatever the reason(s), he chose to wait, and rest assured that he and his well-prepared reps at Klutch Sports knew all the potential pluses and minuses of that decision.

So while “what should the Lakers do now?” is a very legitimate question as they fall further and further from playoff contention before we’ve even reached the season’s halfway mark, just know that the answer legally cannot be “trade LeBron James.” At least not until this summer.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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