As significant as yesterday’s story about LeBron James signing an extension with the Lakers may be, there’s hardly anything surprising about the development. The 18-time All-Star had always been pegged to affix his Hancock on a contract with the purple and gold, and not simply because alternative opportunities have dried up. For all the dysfunction he has experienced on and off the court since he took his talents to La-La Land in 2018, he understands that his varied interests are best served by staying put.
True, James isn’t as wanted in the market as in his heyday, not with him turning 38 in a little over four months, and not when his body has become increasingly susceptible to injury. On the other hand, there can be no discounting his gravitas even at his advanced age; he just came off a season in which he normed 30.3 points per contest off his highest field-goal percentage in four years. He may need more help to move the Lakers forward, but it’s clear to all and sundry that he dictates the direction for them, and that their prognosis depends largely on how far he can take them.
There is also the dichotomy that those potentially angling for James would need to understand. He can play with anybody, but he’s way beyond just getting along with others on the floor. He wants proximity to the hardware, which necessitates him leaning hard on the front office for personnel changes. And, as the ill-fated acquisition of former Most Valuable Player awardee Russell Westbrook last year underscores, not all of the moves he advocates work out.
And therein lies the rub. Because James requires — for lack of a better term — high maintenance, he’s no longer worth the risk for most other franchises at this stage in his career; they would need to upend their current roster to accommodate him even as he prepares for his inevitable exit from the sport’s grandest stage. And this reality prevents him from engaging in wanderlust anew. Not that he’s so inclined, especially with the Lakers affirming their commitment to lean on him until he retires.
For all intents, the two-year maximum contract James inked is the best he could have been offered by any interested party. Its end coincides with that of all-world partner Anthony Davis, and its option for a third year dovetails with the possible entry of his son Bronny to the pro ranks. Never mind that the $97.1 million he stands to earn throughout the period installs him as the highest career earner in league history. That mark will most certainly be broken given the ever-rising compensation figures.
In any case, it’s clear that James will remain in the headlines for some time to come. Until when, however, is another matter altogether.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.