Lakers Rumors

Lakers Notes: James, Westbrook, Trade Options, Randle, Horton-Tucker, Walker

LeBron James became eligible for a two-year extension on Thursday. While the Lakers and James have until June 30 — when James would become an unrestricted free agent — to reach an agreement, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin indicated on NBA Today that there’s mutual interest in getting an extension done (video link).

“All signs point toward both sides looking to extend their partnership together,” McMenamin said, adding “Overall, both sides recognize they can help one another get to their mutual goal, which is to compete at a high level and stay relevant.”

James and his representative, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, met with the Lakers GM Rob Pelinka and head coach Darvin Ham at the team’s practice facility on Thursday. Paul told McMenamin that they were “productive talks” and he “expects them to continue.”

We have more on the Lakers:

  • The start of training camp could be a soft deadline to trade Russell Westbrook, according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic. Buha says both sides would like to avoid the massive off-court distraction of a media circus constantly speculating about Westbrook’s future.
  • In the same mailbag piece, Buha indicates that the Pacers seem more willing to get a Westbrook deal done than the Nets or another other possible suitor.
  • Despite issues of spacing and long-term contract concerns, Julius Randle would still be a better fit with James and Anthony Davis than Westbrook as a third star, Buha argues. However, Westbrook is mainly a fallback option for the Knicks if they’re unable to acquire Donovan Mitchell.
  • Talen Horton-Tucker isn’t likely to be a regular member of the team’s rotation due to his skill set. His primary strengths are ballhandling and shot creation and the team already has plenty of players who can provide that.
  • Free agent acquisition Lonnie Walker III will fill Malik Monk‘s former role of instant offense off the bench, Buha adds. Walker is a streaky shooter but shot selection and defense are concerns.

Lakers Talked To Knicks, Jazz About Possible Three-Team Trade

The Lakers spoke to the Jazz and Knicks a few weeks ago about a hypothetical three-team trade scenario that would see Donovan Mitchell land in New York, with Russell Westbrook going to Utah, league sources tell Michael Scotto of HoopsHype.

As Scotto explains, the proposed deal would involve at least two Jazz players (likely some combination of Bojan Bogdanovic, Patrick Beverley, Jordan Clarkson, and Malik Beasley) going to Los Angeles, while the Knicks would send out players to both teams for salary-matching purposes. New York would need to trade at least $24.2MM in outgoing salary to match Mitchell’s $30.35MM cap hit.

The Jazz – who would buy out Westbrook if they acquired him, according to Scotto – would receive significant draft compensation from both the Lakers and Knicks for trading Mitchell and taking on Westbrook’s $47MM+ salary.

According to Scotto, the Lakers have had interest in Knicks forward Cam Reddish in the past. Additionally, New York previously expressed interest in Beasley and now employs Gersson Rosas, who acquired and re-signed Beasley when he was working in the Timberwolves’ front office. So if the three teams were able to work out a deal, it would be worth keeping an eye on whether the Lakers could land Reddish or the Knicks could get Beasley.

However, it sounds like it’s probably a long shot that the Jazz, Lakers, and Knicks will be able to reach an agreement.

Utah, of course, wants a substantial haul for Mitchell, having reportedly asked the Knicks for three players and six draft picks last month. And teams that have talked to Los Angeles about Westbrook are believed to be seeking the Lakers’ 2027 and 2029 first-round picks (with as little protection as possible) to accommodate the salary dump. According to multiple reports, L.A. has thus far resisted attaching more than one first-rounder to Westbrook in any proposed trade.

For the Lakers, Jazz, and Knicks to make a deal, they’d have to find common ground on the price tags for both Mitchell and Westbrook, which will be extremely challenging.

It’s unclear, based on Scotto’s report, whether or not the three clubs are still actively exploring this scenario or how viable they consider it to be.

Community Shootaround: Should LeBron Sign Extension With Lakers?

Now that LeBron James is officially eligible to sign a contract extension that would keep him with the Lakers through the 2024/25 season, the question we’re positing today is: should he? Does it make sense to his basketball legacy for James to continue with the Lakers’ current personnel, or even a roster without the contract of embattled starting point guard Russell Westbrook?

Team president Rob Pelinka met with James and his agent Rich Paul today for what Paul called a “productive” discussion surrounding a possible extension for the 37-year-old vet. Due to the NBA’s Over-38 rule (outlined in our glossary), the 18-time All-Star is limited to signing, at most, a two-year extension with Los Angeles.

Though James enjoyed a strong individual statistical season during 2021/22, injuries limited the forward to just 56 games, marking the third time in his four seasons with Los Angeles that James has missed 26 or more games. Big man Anthony Davis appeared in just 40 games last year due to his own health problems.

After L.A. traded much of its depth to secure the services of max-salaried point guard Westbrook in the summer of 2021, the Lakers were counting on their new “big three” to win with sheer talent, surrounded mostly by veterans on minimum contracts. The erratic availability of the team’s two best players, plus a disappointing (but mostly healthy) season from Westbrook, doomed the club to an underwhelming 33-49 record. The Lakers did not perform well enough to even qualify for a play-in game. This marked a precipitous fall for the team, which won the title behind stellar performances from James and Davis, surrounded by quality role players, in 2020.

While he is no longer the same defender he was during his Cavaliers and Heat prime, James remains a powerhouse on offense. Beyond his excellent ability to muscle his way inside the paint and an elite passing touch, James has also developed into a decent volume long-range shooter. Last season, he averaged 30.3 PPG, his highest total since 2005/06, plus 8.2 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.3 SPG, and 1.1 BPG. The 2022 All-NBA Third Teamer posted shooting splits of .524/.359/.756.

The Lakers have pivoted from their 2021 team-building approach. First, L.A. fired its championship-winning head coach Frank Vogel this summer, opting to replace him with former Bucks assistant Darvin Ham. In addition to the team’s three highly-paid stars, Los Angeles is set to bring back wing Talen Horton-Tucker, guard Kendrick Nunn, athletic forwards Stanley Johnson and Wenyen Gabriel, and second-year shooting guard Austin Reaves. Nunn missed the entire 2021/22 season, which would have been his first with the Lakers, due to a knee injury. He claims to be fully recovered at this point.

New Lakers additions like mid-level signing Lonnie Walker IV, centers Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant, and swingmen Troy Brown Jr. and Juan Toscano-Anderson seem to suggest the Los Angeles front office is looking to youth, defense and athleticism over experience and shooting to complement its three stars. The team also drafted rookie guard Max Christie out of Michigan State with the No. 35 pick and signed intriguing undrafted rookies Scotty Pippen Jr. and Cole Swider to two-way contracts.

As for the fate of Westbrook, the Lakers have reportedly received overtures from the Knicks, Jazz, and Pacers. Los Angeles has also had conversations about a potential swap of Westbrook to the Nets for Brooklyn’s own embattled point guard, Kyrie Irving. All of those teams would want at least one and perhaps two future first-round picks to take on Westbrook.

Following a recent split with Westbrook, longtime agent Thad Foucher appeared to indicate that the root of their break-up stemmed from his belief that the point guard should remain with the Lakers, rather than seeking out a trade. Westbrook has since signed Jeff Schwartz to represent him, and one wonders if this new duo will work to relocate Westbrook away from his hometown team this year.

The Lakers would be well-served to offload future assets if they are part of a larger package that will help them also move on from Westbrook. No longer his peak athletic self, the 33-year-old nine-time All-Star proved to be an awkward on-court fit with James as both thrive on the ball and Westbrook, a poor shooter and apathetic cutter, fails to provide much value off it. James and the Lakers could significantly benefit on the floor if the team opted to bring in, say, Pacers veterans Myles Turner and Buddy Hield in exchange for Westbrook and future draft picks.

Even if such a transaction happened, would that – in combination with the club’s new additions and, hopefully, a healthier James and Davis – be enough to effectively move the needle and help Los Angeles return to something approaching title contention, after two straight disappointing seasons? Given the All-Star duo’s time served in the league and injury history, this writer is skeptical.

The West is looking loaded this year, with the reigning champion Warriors poised to hit the ground running, the veteran-laden Nuggets and Clippers finally set to have all their stars healthy, and clubs like the Grizzlies, Suns and Mavericks hoping to continue to build on their recent playoff runs.

James has won four Finals MVP awards and four titles with three different clubs. He has led his teams to 10 Finals appearances all told, including eight straight from 2011-18. There’s no question that, as he enters the twilight of his career, the 6’9″ forward would like to at least have a chance of adding to his championship pedigree and Hall of Fame legacy.

Would James be better served by holding off on agreeing to a Lakers tenure beyond 2023? This way, he could let the team court him in unrestricted free agency instead, where he would be able to simultaneously take stock of what the rest of the league has to offer. At present, only a handful of clubs are expected to have the necessary cap space to sign a player to a maximum contract next summer, though that could certainly change were James to become available.

We want to know what you think. Should James opt to extend sooner rather than later, so that the Lakers could be more inclined to package future draft equity in trades for current help? Should LeBron even opt in at all? Where should he go if he does walk in 2023?

Alternately, if James does return to the Lakers, should he just sign a one-year deal with a player option for the second season, in the hopes of aligning the timing of his free agency with the first season his son Bronny James becomes NBA-eligible? Head to the comments section below to weigh in!

Western Notes: LeBron, R. Paul, Lakers, Jensen

Newly extension-eligible Lakers All-Star forward LeBron James and his agent Rich Paul met with team president Rob Pelinka today at the team’s El Segundo practice facility to discuss their future, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPN. In remarks to McMenamin, Paul called the conversation “productive.”

The Lakers could now ink James to a two-year, $97.1MM extension, which would keep the 19-year veteran under contract with Los Angeles through the 2024/25 season. McMenamin adds that James may decide to sign a single-season extension with a player option for the second year. This way, LeBron can sign on to any club that drafts his son Bronny James when the younger James becomes draft-eligible during the 2024 offseason.

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference:

  • The Lakers appear to be hesitant to trade for players with multiple years left on their contracts, per Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times. Woike believes the front office would be more amenable to acquiring players on longer deals should James opt to sign an extension keeping him in L.A. beyond 2023.
  • Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen is set to serve as Team USA’s head coach for the 2022 AmeriCup next month, USA Basketball announced in a press release. Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette head coach, and Mike Williams, head coach of the Wizards’ NBAGL affiliate (the Capital City Go-Go), will work as assistants under Jensen. “I’m honored to have the opportunity to coach the 2022 USA AmeriCup Team and look forward to working with Mike and Steve as well as a talented group of players,” Jensen said of his new NBA offseason gig. “I always enjoy my time with USA Basketball and am excited to be selected for my first head coaching assignment.” Sarah Todd of the Deseret News notes that Jensen was initially hired as an assistant for former Utah head coach Quin Snyder in 2013, but will be sticking around under new head coach Will Hardy this season.

LeBron James Becomes Extension-Eligible

Superstar forward LeBron James is now officially eligible to sign a veteran contract extension with the Lakers.

James last signed an extension with the Lakers on December 3, 2020, adding two years to the one remaining on his deal at the time. That contract will expire at the end of the 2022/23 season.

Typically, a player who signs an extension that keeps him under contract for three or four seasons (when accounting for both his current contract and his extension) becomes extension-eligible again two years after his signing date. However, James’ eligibility window opens on August 4 instead of December 3 due to the unusual nature of the 2020 calendar, which was affected by COVID-19 — since free agency didn’t open until November that year, the NBA considers August 4, 2022 this offseason’s equivalent of December 3, 2020.

James is earning $44,474,988 in 2022/23, which exceeds the standard maximum of $43,279,250 for a player with 10-plus years of NBA experience. That means he’s eligible to sign an extension that either gives him a 5% raise over this season’s salary or is worth next season’s maximum, whichever is higher. Currently, next season’s max projects to be $46,550,000, whereas a 5% raise would put LeBron in line for a $46,698,737 starting salary.

Because he’s already 37 years old, James’ ability to sign a long-term extension is impacted by the Over-38 rule, which we explain in detail in our glossary entry. It prevents him from playing on contract longer than three years (including his current deal), which limits the length of a potential extension to two years. Assuming a $46,698,737 starting salary, LeBron’s maximum two-year extension would be worth $97,133,373 — the second year (2024/25) could be a player option.

Although James is now extension-eligible, there’s likely no urgency from his perspective to get a deal done right away. He has until June 30, 2023 to sign an extension, and would be able to sign a similar contract with the Lakers if he opts for free agency next year (in that scenario, he could even add a third year for 2025/26, since the ’22/23 season would no longer count toward the three-year limit created by the Over-38 rule).

While the Lakers would certainly prefer to lock in LeBron to a new deal sooner rather than later, the four-time MVP can retain leverage and perhaps wield more influence on the team’s roster moves by holding off on that commitment. Taking that route would also give James a chance to assess the team’s roster additions as well as new head coach Darvin Ham during the 2022/23 season.

As Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider link) writes, the Lakers’ potential 2023 cap room won’t be affected in any real way by whether or not James signs an extension, since his free agent cap hold would be essentially equivalent to his starting salary on a new deal. In either scenario, Los Angeles projects to have over $20MM in room, which would open up some options for the team but wouldn’t be enough for another maximum-salary player.

Of course, if the Lakers lose James, they’d open up significantly more cap space next summer, but that’s not what the team wants, and there has been no indication that James is looking to leave L.A. — one recent report indicated that LeBron is happy in Southern California and that his family has become “increasingly entrenched” there in recent years.

Still, rumors figure to swirl around the four-time champion and the Lakers as long as he remains unsigned beyond the 2022/23 season. There has been speculation, for instance, about the possibility of another reunion between James and the Cavaliers if he reaches free agency next summer.

According to Marks, if James does sign a two-year, $97MM+ extension with the Lakers, it would increase his career salary earnings to $532MM, which would be the most ever for an NBA player.

Pacific Notes: LeBron, Irving, R. Jackson, Kings

With LeBron James eligible to sign an extension starting Thursday, Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register looks at the factors that will go into James’ decision on whether to extend his commitment to the Lakers.

L.A. can sign James to a two-year, $97.1MM extension that would run past his 40th birthday or he can opt for a one-year deal worth $46.7MM. James could also decide to accept less, but Goon doesn’t believe the Lakers are in position to make a significant roster upgrade with any savings that he might provide.

Money will obviously factor into the decision, but James also wants to be part of a title contender, which L.A. may not be able to offer right away. Goon notes that the team could have around $20MM in cap space next summer, which is enough to add a contributor but not nearly enough for another max player.

Family will also affect James’ thought process, as he has children in school and seems committed to the L.A. area. He has expressed a desire to play alongside his son, Bronny, who will be a high school senior this year, which could put pressure on the Lakers to draft him in 2024 if LeBron agrees to a two-year extension.

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • The Lakers remain Kyrie Irving‘s “top destination” if and when he leaves the Nets, whether it’s through a trade or free agency next summer, according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic. Buha adds that the league-wide lack of interest in trading for Irving indicates that L.A. might be his only option as a free agent.
  • Echoing comments he made in March, Clippers guard Reggie Jackson told youths at Paul George‘s basketball camp that he considering retirement during his time with the Pistons, per Tomer Azarly of Clutch Points (video link). “It really started making me question myself (late in his Detroit tenure),” Jackson said. “… Don’t let anybody ever do this to you in life, take the fun out of the things that you love to do. I really was gonna retire. My lifeline, my brother here saved me.”
  • James Ham of The Kings Beat examines the Kings‘ new-look roster to see if they’ve upgraded enough to break their long playoff drought.

Lakers Notes: Westbrook, Closing Lineup, Nunn, LeBron

While former Lakers head coach Frank Vogel benched Russell Westbrook late in games a small handful of times last season, new coach Darvin Ham will have more power to do so this season, assuming Westbrook remains on the roster and Ham decides there are better fits in crunch time, says Jovan Buha of The Athletic.

Buha expects Westbrook to get opportunities to close out games, but notes that it will depend on his shooting, decision-making, and defense.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis are, of course, locks to be part of the Lakers’ “closing” five, and Buha views Austin Reaves as the next-best bet to join that group because he can be a secondary ball-handler. Buha predicts that Juan Toscano-Anderson and Troy Brown will fill out the closing five in instances when Westbrook is on the bench.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Although Kendrick Nunn recently said he feels 100% healthy after missing the entire 2021/22 season due to a knee injury, he has yet to resume playing five-on-five, which will be the “next big hurdle” in his recovery process, Buha writes. The expectation for now is that Nunn will be ready to go for training camp.
  • Buha believes that the Lakers are done adding veteran free agents this offseason, and that any additional roster changes would come via trade. He notes that the team could also be active on the buyout market after the 2023 trade deadline.
  • LeBron James will become eligible on Thursday to sign a contract extension with the Lakers, but Chris Mannix of SI.com doesn’t believe James will be in any rush to sign that deal, since he can maintain leverage and keep pressure on the team by taking his time. He could sign that extension at any time up until June 30, 2023.

James' Extension Could Hinge On Son's Future

Bronny James will be eligible for the draft in 2024, and LeBron James‘ desire to play with his son could affect his decision regarding an extension, as Joe Vardon of The Athletic explains. James, who could be an unrestricted free agent after next season, can sign a two-year, $98MM extension with the Lakers this offseason.

The easiest way for LeBron and Bronny to play together is for LeBron to be a member of the team that drafts Bronny. The Lakers will likely have to commit to doing what it takes to draft his son in order for an extension to be reached. Vardon, noting that L.A. doesn’t currently control its 2024 first-round pick, suggests that the team may have to consider a trade bringing in a ’24 first-rounder, even though Bronny doesn’t currently project as a first-round prospect.

And-Ones: McCormack, Luxury Tax, OKC Blue, Harrison

David McCormack has signed with Besiktas in Turkey, according to a team press release. McCormack was reportedly signing an Exhibit 10 contract with the Timberwolves but apparently chose to begin his pro career in Europe.

The undrafted big man out of Kansas was a prominent member of the Jayhawks’ national championship team. He spent all four of his college seasons at Kansas, starting 96 of 132 total games. In 2021/22, he averaged 10.6 PPG and 7.0 RPG in 40 contests (21.9 MPG).

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • A total of 10 teams are currently projected to collectively spend $650MM in luxury tax payments next season, according to Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype. That would an NBA record for tax penalties. The Warriors, Nets, Clippers, Bucks, Lakers, Sixers, Celtics, Suns, Nuggets and Mavericks all project as taxpayer teams for the time being.
  • The G League’s Oklahoma City Blue will continue to play the Thunder’s Paycom Center next season, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman reports. The Blue also played there last season, having been the only G League team to host their games in an NBA arena. They often had to play late morning or early afternoon games with the Thunder playing there on the same night.
  • Former NBA swingman Andrew Harrison has signed with Yukatel Merkezefendi Belediyesi in Turkey, as JD Shaw of Hoops Rumors relays (Twitter link). Harrison has suited up with the Grizzlies, Cavaliers and Pelicans during his NBA career. In his last NBA season, he played a combined 16 games with Cleveland and New Orleans in 2018/19.

More Reaction To Bill Russell’s Passing

How can the NBA celebrate the legacy of Bill Russell? By retiring his iconic No. 6 jersey league-wide, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times opines.

Russell passed away at the age of 88 over the weekend.

That would be an appropriate tribute to Russell, who like Jackie Robinson excelled in his sport while fighting against prejudice and bigotry. The league could let players who currently wear Russell’s number finish out their careers with that uniform, Woike adds, but otherwise the number should be retired as a show of respect for Russell’s contributions to the game and society.

Here’s more reaction to the passing of Russell:

  • Another of the league’s all-time greats, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, reflected on his 60-year relationship with Russell in a Substack post, detailing why he considers Russell “my friend, my mentor, my role model.”
  • The Athletic’s Steve Buckley explores Russell’s tumultuous relationship with the city of Boston and how he eventually softened his stance on returning to the city in his later years.
  • Despite the fact that many of the Celtics’ championships with Russell came at the expense of the Lakers, he was beloved in the city of Los Angeles, as Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register details.
  • Former Celtics player and executive Danny Ainge said many former Boston players often spoke of Russell’s impact on their lives, Sarah Todd of the Deseret News writes. “I had an opportunity to sit and talk for hours with many Celtic legends over the years: John Havlicek, KC Jones, Sam Jones, Tommy Heinsohn, Jo Jo White, Red Auerbach and many others,” Ainge said. “Their stories would often lead to conversations about the great Bill Russell. The influence he had on those he was so close with is impressive, but the impact he had on so many people everywhere is legendary.”
  • Statistical analysis of Russell’s career cannot possibly compute his impact on the games he played and championships he won, Santul Nerkar and Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight.com argue.
  • With current players taking stances on social issues, Russell’s legacy of fighting injustice will continue to be felt for many more years, Logan Murdock of The Ringer notes.