In an offseason that has been bereft of big moves, the most impactful Lakers signing thus far is LeBron James extending for two years, guaranteeing that he remains in Los Angeles through at least the 2023-24 season.
At that point, James would be 39 and have played for 21 seasons, placing him in a tie for the second-longest career in league history behind only Vince Carter. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee that James would be finishing his NBA career in Los Angeles, however, though Jeanie Buss is certainly hoping that’s the case.
In an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic, Buss expressed how important it is to her and the franchise that James retire as a Laker — a sentiment also echoed by general manager Rob Pelinka earlier this summer — and celebrate at least one more major milestone in purple and gold:
“It is a big vote of confidence when LeBron James signs a two-year extension, when he had many months to do so (he had until June 30, 2023, to sign this deal). And you know, it was a priority to us. It’s a priority to the Laker brand that he retire a Laker. We’ll probably enjoy watching him as he approaches becoming the all-time leading scorer in history.”
First of all, it would be great for the Lakers to actually win a game, or even play well, in a game in which LeBron James reaches an NBA milestone, especially one as monumental as being the league’s all-time leading scorer. For reference (and this is not an exhaustive list):
- The Lakers lost to the Nuggets by 16 when LeBron passed Michael Jordan in scoring, and the major storyline postgame was Rajon Rondo sitting among the fans instead of on the team bench.
- They lost to a Warriors team missing Draymond Green the night LeBron became the all-time combined leading scorer in regular season plus playoff games.
- LeBron created the exclusive 10K points, 10K rebounds, and 10K assists club as the Lakers were routed by the Phoenix Suns and Devin Booker spent postgame taking shots at Anthony Davis for saying the Suns got lucky in the 2021 postseason.
- On the night LeBron passed Karl Malone for second on the all-time regular-season scoring list, the Lakers blew a 16-point lead to a Wizards team without Bradley Beal (or Kyle Kuzma, for what it’s worth).
But the major takeaway here is that Buss wants James to end his career as a Laker. The problem with that line of thinking is that James has spent the last six months expressing his desire to finish his career as the teammate of Bronny James, and potentially even Bryce James, depending on how well his body and mind hold up.
In an interview with Chris Ballard for Sports Illustrated — which, incidentally, dropped the same day as Buss’ comments — James reiterated his dream of sharing the court with his sons, even as he tries not to apply pressure on either of them to follow his path to the NBA.
“I put it in the air because I like to talk to the basketball gods out there and see if things can come to fruition. I’ve always set out goals in my career, talked to the basketball gods, and they’ve listened to all of them. Hopefully they can listen to this last one, too.”
James also added that in order to make that dream a reality, he’s keeping an eye on teams that have first-round picks in the mid-2020s in order to draft his sons. As has been well-documented, the Lakers don’t control any of their first-round picks until 2027, the first year that Bryce could be eligible for the NBA; but James has reportedly been in favor of the Lakers trading that pick to acquire more talent for the team’s current roster.
So while Buss plans one timeline for how James’ career could end, the superstar has another idea that could be at complete odds with the Lakers’ priorities. The two parties have remained on the same page in the present despite that seeming disconnect. And the probability of James lasting until year 22, Bronny making it to the NBA one year out of high school, and father and son landing on the same team is low enough to not worry about it for the time being.
But as James would say, if the basketball gods are hearing him and Buss, they can’t please everyone. In the not-so-distant future, we’ll see whose plans actually do come to fruition.