Inside the Internecine Battle Between Lakers’ Jeanie Buss and LeBron James
While the Lakers confront the biggest offseason in their storied history, they’re also facing a chaotic internecine battle between team owner and governor Jeanie Buss and superstar LeBron James over his extension.
LeBron is eligible to sign a 2-year $97.1 million extension that would take effect after next season, which is right now potentially the last year the Lakers would have James under contract since he has a player option for next year. While LeBron and the Lakers cannot discuss or execute this extension until after August 4th or be accused of tampering, the reality is the Lakers need to know whether James is going to sign to be free to go all-in this summer.
We have already seen the Lakers refuse to give out more than a 1-year contract for their MLE during free agency or accept more than 1-year contracts back in return when negotiating a trade with the Brooklyn Nets. Right now, that seems to be the Lakers’ stance until LeBron James verbally assures them that he is going to sign the 2-year extension when he becomes eligible to sign it on August 4th so they can feel secure moving forward.
So let’s take a look at the standoff between Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss and the team’s superstar LeBron James, how Jeanie and LeBron can resolve the impasse, and what it could mean for the future of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Who Fired First Shot in Battle between Jeanie and LeBron?
The first public indication of a family spat between the Lakers’ owner and superstar came via a controversial tweet from Jeanie Buss two days earlier where she complained about missing Kobe Bryant and his sage counsel.
According to Jeanie, Kobe “would understand and explain everything that I’m not allowed to,” a reference to the 2-year extension which LeBron and the Lakers cannot discuss until he’s legally eligible to sign after August 4, 2022. This tweet is Jeanie’s way of getting around the tampering rules and letting everybody, including LeBron, know she does not appreciate LeBron not letting the Lakers know he is going to sign the extension when eligible August 4th.
The reports that LeBron wants to see Kyrie traded to Los Angeles “more than anyone” and is “rooting hard” for the Lakers to acquire him were welcome comments by James but not the behind-the-scenes commitment Jeanie wants. In the meantime, the Lakers are taking a hard line financial stance that they will not sign any free agents or take back any contracts in trade with contracts longer than 1-year because that’s how long they now have LeBron locked up.
That position already forced them to waste their $6.5 million MLE on Lonnie Walker IV, whom they overpaid because he was the only candidate on their board who was willing to take a 1-year deal without a team or player option.
How Can Lakers and LeBron Resolve Their Differences?
The solution to the internecine battle between Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and superstar LeBron James is for the latter to verbally assure the former that he will sign the extension if the Lakers successfully trade Westbrook for Irving.
Replacing Russell Westbrook with Kyrie Irving is like swapping one devil for another as both were accidental albatrosses and nightmares that caused their respective teams to implode and self-destruct despite superstar big threes. When it comes to fit, however, Irving trumps any conceivable return the Lakers could receive from Westbrook. While a wash defensively, Kyrie trumps Russ completely when it comes to shooting, playmaking, and ball security.
While it made sense for LeBron to wait to make a decision about signing the extension to see what the Lakers do, it would also be smart to give the Lakers specific criteria that if met would guarantee LeBron would sign extension. Frankly, trading Russell Westbrook for Kyrie Irving and a second player who could start for the Lakers is the kind of move that not only fixes the team’s need to move Russ and add shooting but turns them back into a contender.
LeBron James needs to give Jeanie Buss and the Los Angeles Lakers his word that he will sign the 2-year extension to which he will be eligible on August 4th so the Lakers can move forward and build their best possible roster.
What Happens If LeBron Won’t Sign Extension?
Frankly, the idea that LeBron James would demand a trade or the Los Angeles Lakers would agree to trade him seems like an impossible nightmare but who knows what can happen when bruised egos lost the will to work together.
Until this season, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers seemed to be happily married and mutually aligned in their quest to win basketball game and NBA championships. Then came Russell Westbrook and last season. Disappointing would be an understatement for the Lakers last season as a plague of injuries to James and Davis, poor roster construction by Pelinka, and uncharacteristically poor coaching by Vogel led to a 33–49 record.
While James and Davis share blame for encouraging the Lakers to trade for Westbrook, LeBron refusing to verbally and conditionally commit to signing an extension if the Lakers trade for Kyrie Irving seems to be a zero sum game. The Lakers and James both need this trade. It would be criminal for either to waste this gift from the basketball gods. The Lakers must move Westbrook and the Nets must move Irving and neither team has another viable option.
The reality is the Lakers need LeBron James to verbally and conditionally commit to signing the extension so they can build a team around him that can win a championship. If he does not sign, the Lakers should trade him.
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