LeBron James’ NBA free agency circus is back this time with Bronny

The NBA world stops when LeBron James becomes a free agent. For the fourth and likely final time in his legendary career, James is poised to enter the open market this summer for one more round of non-stop speculation about his basketball future.

James is still one of the best players in the NBA, and he just proved it in the Los Angeles Lakers’ first round series against the Denver Nuggets in the 2024 NBA Playoffs. James carried the Lakers throughout the series with an unfathomable performance for someone his age: he averaged 27.8 points, 8.8 assists, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.4 steals per game on 63.7 percent true shooting. Perhaps most impressive of all, he averaged 40.8 minutes per game. At 39 years old.

Unfortunately, James’ excellence wasn’t enough to get more than one win off the reigning champion Nuggets. Denver eliminated the Lakers in five games, ending a season in which Los Angeles was good but never quite good enough in a loaded Western Conference.

Head coach Darvin Ham is likely to be fired. What comes after that largely rests on James’ decision.

James has a player option for $51.4 million this offseason. He’s expected to turn that down and negotiate a longer contract. Here’s what we know about James’ impending free agency so far.

LeBron James wants to play two more seasons in the NBA

When will LeBron James retire? He has his eye on playing two more seasons in the NBA, . That would mean James would call it quits after his age-41 season.

LeBron James will most likely return to the Lakers … but wants to put pressure on them

No player in NBA history has been better than James at leveraging his own power to pressure his team into competitive decisions. By turning down his player option, James would immediately put a spotlight on the Lakers to maximize their championship chances next year.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst talked about how James can apply pressure to LA this summer by opting out of his contract.

The Lakers have up to three first round picks they can trade this summer. The team is likely to have the No. 17 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft (the Pelicans have the option to taking the pick this year, or pushing it to next year in a stronger draft). To this point the Lakers have protected their future picks as a safeguard after James’ retirement, but it might be time to put some of those assets on the table to better the team around LeBron now.

Trae Young is a big name already connected with the Lakers. Expect plenty more as teams get knocked out of the playoffs.

The Lakers badly want to keep LeBron

The Lakers want James back at all costs, even if that means giving him a three-year, $164 million max deal. after their season-ending loss to Denver:

The Lakers, team sources say, would be open to discussing any deal that involves James coming back — including even the maximum three-year, $164 million extension they can offer. Playing through a three-year deal would put him at 42 by the end of the contract.

The Bronny factor is still hanging over everything

Bronny James took our advice and entered the 2024 NBA Draft. The Lakers , be it with their first round pick or more ideally the No. 55 overall selection late in the second round.

LeBron is on the record many times saying he wants to play with his son. There’s been an idea floating around out there that whoever drafts Bronny will immediately get a free agent commitment from his father. That’s highly speculative and probably unfounded, but it speaks to the conviction LeBron has when talking about playing with Bronny.

The neatest way to wrap this up is for the Lakers to draft Bronny with their second round pick. Will someone take him earlier? It’s certainly possible.

LeBron James has earned the right to do whatever he wants

It’s unbelievable that James is still so good this late into his career. It’s a shame the Lakers haven’t been able to put a championship team around him, because he’s still playing like someone who can be the best player on a title contender.

The Lakers are still paying for past sins in many ways following their James-led 2020 NBA championship inside the bubble. Letting go of Alex Caruso for financial reasons was a costly blow. The Russell Westbrook trade that sent Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope out town still stings. The Lakers did well to dig themselves out of those holes for the most part — but there’s still a big gap between them and the elite tier of the league.

It sure seems like LeBron’s preference is to retire a Laker and do it as his son’s teammate. It’s also true that James has shocked us so many times before, like leaving Cleveland for Miami, leaving Miami for Cleveland, and leaving Cleveland for the Lakers. The final chapter for one of the greatest players yet has yet to be written, but this summer just might determine the ending.

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