LeBron James to sign 2-year, $104 million max deal with Lakers

By Shams Charanis, Tess DeMeyer, Jovan Buha and John Hollinger

LeBron James plans to sign a two-year, $104 million maximum deal to return to the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources confirmed Wednesday. He will have a player option next summer and a no-trade clause, sources said.

The Athletic previously reported that James intended to opt out of his $51.4 million player option for next season.

It’s no secret James and Anthony Davis both want significant improvements to the Lakers’ roster. According to agent Rich Paul, LeBron was even willing to take a sizable pay cut to help facilitate a worthwhile nontaxpayer midlevel exception signing. But that hasn’t happened, and James ultimately agreed to a two-year maximum contract with a second-year player option, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

With each passing hour and each transaction elsewhere, upgrading the Lakers’ roster becomes slightly more challenging.

Through three days of free agency — and really, dating back to last Wednesday, when they finally had access to three tradable draft picks — the Lakers have made no moves of consequence outside of re-signing Max Christie to a four-year, $32 million deal. And with summer league only a few days away, they’ve yet to hire an assistant coaching staff around JJ Redick.

It hasn’t been for a lack of trying. The Lakers aggressively pursued Klay Thompson, but Thompson turned down their offer of more years and money from the Lakers to join the Dallas Mavericks, according to league sources. They’ve now turned their attention to DeMar DeRozan, though the Miami Heat are currently viewed as slight favorites to land the 15-year veteran and six-time All-Star, according to league sources.

The Lakers have been active in their conversations on the trade market, too. As The Athletic reported earlier on Tuesday, the Lakers have had recent trade talks with Portland, Brooklyn and Utah, among other teams.

“I think we’re gonna always be aggressive to try to make roster upgrades and will be relentless to continue to look at what we can do,” vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said. “This is the season of being mindful of all the different things we can approach to improve the roster. So we’re in the midst of that as we speak. That will continue in the coming days, and it often spills into Vegas, where all the GMs meet and gather, and other deals get done. But we’ll stay aggressive.”

James re-signing will bring the Lakers’ roster to 15 players — the league maximum. The Lakers will have $190 million in guaranteed salary and be $1.1 million over the $188.9 million second apron, which would limit the team’s ability to make additional moves.

The new deal comes after news that James’ son Bronny, who was drafted at No. 55 by the Lakers last month, signed a four-year rookie contract with the Lakers that’s worth $7.9 million and includes a team option in the fourth season, per league sources.

LeBron has long expressed a desire to play with Bronny, 19, in the pros, famously telling The Athletic in 2022: “My last year (in the NBA) will be played with my son.” The superstar forward modified that sentiment in 2023, telling ESPN his goal would also be realized playing with Bronny “either in the same uniform or (in) a matchup against him.”

If this wasn’t already obvious, the Lakers will need to throw some bodies overboard and may have to pay a team like the Pistons or Jazz with second-round picks to take them.

Most simply, L.A. could drop Christian Wood and Cam Reddish off on another team’s doorstep, re-sign Taurean Prince for up to $5.5 million and have a 14-man roster that is right at the second apron.

To get a player like DeMar DeRozan with the nontaxpayer midlevel exception, however, the Lakers would likely need to part with bigger contracts — think Gabe Vincent, Rui Hachimura and/or D’Angelo Russell. Max Christie’s new deal, occupying an estimated $7.2 million on their cap sheet, remains a thorn in the Lakers’ side in this respect.

Due to an NBA salary-cap quirk known as the “over-38 rule,” Los Angeles was unable to offer James, who turns 40 on Dec. 30, a contract for more than three years.

In his six years as a Laker, James has averaged 27.0 points per game in the regular season and accumulated 9,436 of his more than NBA-record 40,474 career regular-season points. In his four postseason trips with Los Angeles, he’s averaged 26.1 points per game and helped lead the Lakers to an NBA title in 2020.

The Lakers went 47-35 last season before being knocked out of the playoffs by the Denver Nuggets in the first round.

James is a 20-time All-Star, a four-time MVP and a four-time Finals MVP. The upcoming season will mark his seventh year with the franchise, which will match his first seven years with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the longest consecutive stretch with any team during his career.

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(Photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

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