How Can the Lakers Convince LeBron James to Sign Extension August 4th?
The Los Angeles Lakers are hurtling towards what could be a major turning point in franchise history on August 4th as that is the first date that LeBron James and the Lakers can negotiate a possible 2-year $97 million extension.
Without an extension, LeBron would become an unrestricted free agent next summer and the Lakers could lose him for nothing. Uncertainty over the extension has left LeBron and the Lakers in an uncomfortable limbo. Leary of losing LeBron next summer, the Lakers unilaterally handcuffed themselves by refusing to sign or trade for players whose contracts are longer than the one year remaining on James’ contract regardless of value.
The Lakers have had a excellent offseason. They hired a charismatic young head coach in Darwin Ham, adopted a more modern approach to the game, and used the draft and free agency to become younger and more athletic. Now comes the challenging part of the offseason as the Lakers need to trade Russell Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker, and their two available first round draft picks to get three or four legitimate rotation players who can shoot.
As August 4 approaches, the Lakers must make some big decisions. Right now, they’re in a lose-lose situation. Don’t make major moves and LeBron could leave. Make moves LeBron doesn’t approve and he still could leave. What the Lakers need to do is change the dynamic of the situation into a win-win situation. They need make the major moves to rebuild the roster to championship quality and remain confident James wants to stay a Laker.
That means being smart and being willing to take back a reasonable 2 or 3-year contract for a legitimate starter or rotation player who is a good fit as part of the return from a Russell Westbrook or Talen Horton-Tucker trade.
1. Commit to Future with LeBron James
Let’s start by saying what everybody should know, which is LeBron has no intention of leaving the Los Angeles Lakers at this point in his career. So forget any ideas of LeBron demanding a trade or the Lakers pursuing one.
That doesn’t mean LeBron won’t pressure the Lakers as much as possible to surround him with a championship roster regardless of how difficult and challenging that might be, especially after the team traded for Westbrook. In the end, the Lakers must stay confident James is not going anywhere and focus their intention on making sure when August 4th arrives they’re ready to present LeBron with their best pitch why he should sign extension.
That means Rob Pelinka doing his job and making or setting the stage for major trades to complete the roster rebuilding job by adding three or four legitimate rotation players who are also elite 3-point shooters to the roster. What it doesn’t mean is Rob waiting for input from LeBron and Klutch on whom he should be pursuing. We saw how allowing LeBron James and Anthony Davis to push for a Russell Westbrook trade worked last season.
If that means the Lakers take back a little more annual salary in trade to get a player who is a better fit, then so be it. If it means the Lakers take back a rotation player on a reasonably valued three-year contract, then so be it. The worst thing the Lakers can do in the aftermath of last season’s disaster is to become hesitant, unconfident, uncertain, and afraid of making another mistake. Instead, they need to think clearly, act confidently and decisively.
As August 4th approaches, Pelinka needs to be able to present LeBron with a fait accompli when it comes to rebuilding the roster. Much like the Field of Dreams, Rob needs to build a winner to get LeBron to sign the extension
2. Trade Westbrook for Multiple Rotation Players
The single most important task facing Rob Pelinka this offseason is he must find a way to trade Russell Westbrook and Talen Horton-Tucker for three or four legitimate rotation players who are also elite 3-point shooters.
The problem is the Lakers aren’t content just to improve the roster. Despite missing the playoffs last season, Los Angeles’ front office is still shooting for the moon and hoping to pull off an improbable Westbrook for Irving trade. They are simply not going to consider Plan B with Indiana, Plan C with Utah, or Plan D with New York until they are 100% sure there is no chance to trade Russell Westbrook to the Nets for Kyrie Irving and other shooters.
So far, the Lakers appear to have four possible teams who have interest in trading for Russell Westbrook. In order of preference, these teams are the Brooklyn Nets, the Indiana Pacers, the Utah Jazz, and the New York Knicks. The Lakers’ targeted rotation players include the Nets’ Kyrie Irving and Joe Harris, the Pacers’ Myles Turner and Buddy Hield, the Jazz’ Mike Conley and Bogdan Bogdanovic, and the Knicks’ Julius Randle and Evan Fournier.
It also means that the Lakers need to be more flexible and realistic when it comes to taking back contracts that last beyond LeBron James’ contract. Refusing to take back any player contracts longer than one year is dumb. While the Lakers would love to free up cap space to sign Kyrie as a free agent next season, there is no way they’re going to be able to trade Russell Westbrook without taking back reasonably valued multi-year contracts.
Whether LeBron signs and extension or not, the Lakers must trade Russell Westbrook to one of the above four teams because there is no way in the world LeBron James wants to play with Russell Westbrook next season.
3. Sell LeBron on Finishing His Career with Lakers
There was a reason LeBron James wanted to join the Los Angeles Lakers and nothing that has happened in the four years he has worn purple and gold has changed that at this point. LeBron is destined to retire as a Laker.
The legacies of LeBron James and the Lakers are already strongly intertwined by his accepting the mantle from the great Kobe Bryant and then leading the purple and gold to their league best 17th championship. While injuries ended two of his four seasons with the Lakers, LeBron has cemented his place in Lakers history as Kobe’s rightful successor. That’s a bond that will always be there for both Jeanie Buss and LeBron James.
Part of the job of convincing LeBron to sign the extension is reminding him of his deep ties with Kobe and the franchise and inviting him to develop a friendship and relationship with Jeanie going forward just as Kobe did. Jeanie Buss and the Lakers have always been a star driven franchise and one of the reasons LeBron wanted to be a Los Angeles Laker was he saw and appreciated how the franchise treats its superstars like Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers should also strengthen their relationship with LeBron James by helping him achieve two of his personal goals: to play on the same team with his son Bronny and become an NBA team owner when he retires. The Lakers could promise to set aside a draft pick for Bronny or to look to trade for him if he is drafted and to help LeBron get an opportunity to buy into the Lakers the next time one of the minority owners wants to sell.
Rob needs to remind LeBron that his best opportunity to win more NBA championships, expand his legacy of greatness, and surpass Michael Jordan as the GOAT is to sign the extension and continue his career as a Laker.