Top NewsWith LeBron James expected to return, the Lakers must...

With LeBron James expected to return, the Lakers must offer him meaningful roster upgrades


The Los Angeles Lakers’ 2024 offseason is off to an encouraging start.

They hired a bright young coach in JJ Redick. They took top-10 prospect Dalton Knecht with the 17th pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. They made history with their No. 55 pick by pairing LeBron James with his oldest son, Brony James. D’Angelo Russell, perhaps the biggest domino of their offseason, gave them a tradeable mid-level expiring contract.

Then, on Saturday, nearly five hours before the 5 p.m. (ET) deadline, LeBron James opted out of his contract with the intention of re-signing with the Lakers. AthleticShams Saranya. Athletic It was previously reported that the Lakers wanted James to return and were willing to offer him any type of contract he wanted.

James’ departure is another win for the Lakers, who could save at least $1.5 million on their cap sheet by not having him exercise his $51.4 million player option for next season. (The trade-off for James is that he is eligible to include a no-trade clause in his contract, which would allow him to control his future.)

According to Bleacher Report, James could be willing to take an even bigger pay cut on top of that if they allow the Lakers to open the non-taxpayer midlevel exception (worth about $12.9 million) for the right type of player. Clutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, James’ agent, told ESPN that he is only willing to offer a waiver to an “impact player” that includes James Harden, Klay Thompson and Jonas Valanciunas. A non-taxpayer mid-level exemption would be a significant pay cut for Horton and Thompson.

However, there is mutual interest between the Lakers and Thompson athlete’Sarnia and Anthony Slater first reported.

A native of Southern California, Thompson is the son of Michael Thompson, who played for the Showtime Lakers from 1987 to 1991 and is the team’s current radio color commentator. The younger Thompson, 34, is a four-time NBA champion and one of the greatest shooters of all time. Thompson spent 13 of his pro seasons with the Golden State Warriors, but the relationship soured enough for Thompson to leave. The Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and LA Clippers are all pursuing him.

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If James takes the Lakers off waivers to access their full non-taxpayer midlevel exception, the Lakers will be hard on the first apron for $178.7 million. That means James will have to pick up a $16-million waiver wire for the 2024-25 season with a starting salary of more than $33 million. James signed a two-year contract with a player option for 2025-26, and he can opt out in 2025 and re-sign for more money, according to league sources. The Lakers could make a small salary dump trade (or two) to create more financial wiggle room and allow James to take a small cut.

If the Lakers don’t land a star or high-end starter with non-taxpayer midlevel exceptions, James will sign the max, according to ESPN. If LeBron re-signs at his max in 2024-25 (approximately $49.9 million), the Lakers will receive approximately $182.3 million in salary. That’s less than $8 million under the second shield ($189.5 million). James wants to settle his contract before training starts at the USA Men’s Olympic Basketball minicamp on July 6 in Las Vegas.

Whatever happens to James, the Lakers are in a good position to improve their roster if they choose to. The proverbial ball is in their court as to how the rest of this offseason plays out.

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Belinka tempered expectations earlier in the week by saying — twice — that trades would be difficult under the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement. At face value, given the new penalty restrictions of the first and second shields, that is true.

At the same time, trading activity over the past week, particularly at the top of the Western Conference, paints a different reality. At the time, the Oklahoma City Thunder were trying to keep Kentavious Caldwell for defenseman Alex Caruso, the Minnesota Timberwolves for No. 8 pick Rob Dillingham, the Denver Nuggets for Daron Holmes II and the salary-stripped Reggie Jackson. , the Dallas Mavericks shed Tim Hardaway Jr. so they could keep starter Derrick Jones Jr. (or sign Thompson) and the New Orleans Pelicans made a smart deal with former Lakers target Dejounte Murray.

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The rest of the West is finding ways to make trades that improve their rosters or serve as precursors to other moves. Now the Lakers must do the same.

They have the assets to do a significant business. Russell’s $18.7 million contract gives them flexibility in terms of the types of players they can pursue. Add one or two of their future first-round picks, three big swaps and the mid-range salaries of Rui Hachimura, Jarrett Vanderbilt and/or Gabe Vincent and the Lakers. Star (and some less stars too). That is, again, before adding Thompson or another high-impact player as their non-taxpayer midlevel exception.

As for the trade, it seems unlikely that the Lakers will land a third star in a deal, barring something unexpected being secretly available. Donovan Mitchell is reportedly likely to sign a contract extension with Cleveland that would eliminate him. With Trae Young moving from Clutch Sports to CAA, the Lakers have little chance of making a trade. Athletic reported earlier. Murray is now in New Orleans and on board. Maybe Darius Garland is available, but he’s a clear step down from Mitchell and the young stars.

However, there are better options out there. Wings such as Portland’s Jeremy Grant, former Lakers Kyle Kuzma and Nets duo Dorian Phinney-Smith and Cam Johnson could be available on the trade market, according to league sources. They aren’t the biggest needle movers, but any of those four players would improve the Lakers’ perimeter defense, frontcourt size and/or floor spacing. Grant, for his part, checks each of those boxes; He quietly shot over 40 percent on 3s in back-to-back seasons in Portland.

The Lakers roster as currently constructed is simply not good enough to make it out of the Western Conference. They could win a round and maybe even two if the bracket breaks in their favor, but compared to the rest of the West, there are more holes, especially on the wing. Their perimeter size, defense and overall speed and athleticism are lacking compared to their competition. They believed James and Davis should be promoted to this list recently.

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The Timberwolves, Thunder, Mavericks and Pelicans all have better rosters than where they finished last season. Denver’s position could change if they lose Caldwell-Pope in free agency, and the Clippers will fall if they lose Paul George, but the big thing is that the rest of the West will be renewed, putting even more distance between them and the Lakers. If the Lakers are serious about competing for championships with James and Davis, they need to strengthen this supporting cast.

The most immediate problem for this effort is the roster crisis facing the Lakers. If LeBron James re-signs, Russell, Christian Wood, Jackson Hayes and Cam Reddish will have 14 players under contract after Knecht and Bronie James are selected. And that’s before factoring in their other free agents (Max Christie, Darrion Prince and Spencer Dinwiddie) or any future free agents.

The Lakers have made Christie a qualified offer to officially become a restricted free agent, team sources confirmed. Athletic. According to those sources, the front office wants to consider Christie as a rotation player next season. However, the Lakers would need to clear additional cash and a roster spot to sign both Christie and another player with the taxpayer’s non-taxpayer midlevel exception.

If Russell were to leave, the Lakers would have less choice on the trade market. But given his choice, James eager to take a pay cut for the right free agent and the Lakers armed with several mid-range salaries, two first-round picks and multiple draft picks to trade, Los Angeles has no excuses. Dramatically upgrade its roster with a big move or two over the next few days.

(Top photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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