James, 35, averaged 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and a league-best 10.2 assists last season, finishing second in MVP voting and earning selection to the all-NBA first team. He guided the Lakers to a 16-5 record in the bubble playoffs, claiming the fourth title and fourth Finals MVP award of his illustrious career.
During his prime, James often signed short-term contracts so that he could use the threat of his free agency as a tool for leverage. But he’s reached a different stage of his career, landing with a major-market franchise in 2018 that proved it could land a superstar in Anthony Davis and win a title. What’s more, the Lakers have developed a tight working alliance with James’s longtime business partner, Paul of Klutch Sports. Los Angeles inked Klutch clients Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell during free agency, and it is poised to re-sign Davis, an all-NBA forward who is also represented by Paul.
Given those favorable conditions and productive relationships, James was positioned to favor long-term financial security over short-term leverage as he continues to chase Michael Jordan’s six rings. While there was little discussion about James signing an extension in recent weeks, the deal secures a slight pay raise for the 2021-22 season and adds an extra year of protection against injury or age-related decline. The extension would carry James past his 38th birthday and allow him to enter free agency in 2023. James has said that it’s his dream to play with his son Bronny, a top-ranked prospect who is set to graduate from high school in 2023.
From the Lakers’ perspective, locking James into an extension was a no-brainer twice over: They firmed up their connection with the league’s biggest star and removed any uncertainty in their pitch to Davis. After seven up-an-down seasons in New Orleans, the 27-year-old forward made a smooth transition to Los Angeles and was sensational in the playoffs en route to his first title. Davis now knows that his mutually beneficial partnership with James will continue for the foreseeable future.
By being proactive in retooling their roster, the Lakers emerged as major winners of the NBA’s free agency period. The arrivals of Dennis Schroder, Harrell and Marc Gasol, among others, have strengthened Los Angeles’s position as the early title favorites, and James’s extension removes the possibility of distracting free agency rumors in the months ahead.
“We can [repeat],” James said Tuesday in an interview on Spectrum SportsNet. “It’s that simple.”
James had been set to be enter a star-studded 2021 free agency class that could include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.