LeBron James All-Star Weekend Includes Lakers Slights, NBA Future Hints
- LeBron James praised the GMs of the Cavs and Thunder in what seemed like sideswipes at the Lakers.
- In an interview, James said the door isn’t “closed” on one day returning to the Cavs.
- James also said he would do anything and play on any contract to play with his son in the NBA.
LeBron James had an eventful All-Star Weekend in Cleveland that included hitting a game-winner, being celebrated as one of the NBA’s 75 greatest players, and raising questions about his NBA future.
Those who know James and have covered him for years say James is calculated and intentional with what he says in public.
It was striking, then, for James to heap praise on the Cleveland Cavaliers and their GM Koby Altman while speaking to The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd.
“I think Koby and those guys have done an unbelievable job drafting and making trades,” James told Lloyd.
The Cavs have been the NBA’s biggest surprise this season, racing out to a 35-23 record, 4th in the East. They had two All-Stars in point guard Darius Garland and center Jarrett Allen, and rookie big man Evan Mobley is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year.
“I am not surprised by anything that they’re doing right now,” James said of the team’s success.
James also said he wouldn’t rule out a return to Cleveland, though he said he didn’t know what his future holds.
“The door’s not closed on that,” James told Lloyd on a third stint in Cleveland. “I’m not saying I’m coming back and playing. I don’t know. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t even know when I’m free.”
It would seem unlikely that James is unaware that he can become a free agent after the 2022-23 season. After all, James is the same player who signed a series of one-year contracts in Cleveland to increase his earnings and keep pressure on the Cavs front office. He signed a two-year, $85 million contract extension with the Lakers in December of 2020.
James also took a moment during his All-Star media availability to praise Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti. His comments came when he was asked about Thunder rookie Josh Giddey.
“The MVP over there is Sam Presti. He’s the MVP,” James said via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “I mean, Josh Giddey is great. But Sam Presti, I don’t understand this guy’s eye for talent. He drafted [Kevin Durant], Russ [Westbrook], Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Josh Giddey, and the list goes on and on and on. This guy is pretty damn good.”
Taken together, the comments seemed to be public slights of Lakers GM Rob Pelinka and the Lakers front office.
These comments come amid reports that James was unhappy with the Lakers’ inaction at the trade deadline.
At 27-31, the Lakers have struggled this season, even amid an All-NBA-caliber season from James. The roster, old and ill-fitting, badly needs a shake-up. But the Lakers have few assets left to trade because of the deals they made for Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook over the last three years — trades that many believe James pressured the Lakers to make.
The Lakers ultimately decided to stand pat, declining to trade their 2027 first-round pick — the only pick they had available to deal — for what likely wouldn’t have been a season-changing return.
Though Pelinka had told reporters that James and Davis were kept in the loop on the Lakers’ plans, McMenamin later reported that a source close to both players said they hadn’t been briefed on the decision to stand pat.
James is eligible for a two-year, $100 million extension this summer. His comments appear to be applying pressure on the Lakers front office to take significant action next offseason if they want to keep him.
After all, James did make sure to voice his approval of Los Angeles Rams GM Les Snead, who traded multiple draft picks this season to pursue a Super Bowl and who also wore a T-shirt at the Rams Super Bowl parade that read, “Fuck them picks.”
—LeBron James (@KingJames) February 17, 2022
The Bronny angle
James also seemingly opened his availability up to the rest of the NBA by reiterating his desire to play with his son, Bronny James.
“My last year will be played with my son,” James told Lloyd. “Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year. It’s not about the money at that point.”
Bronny, a junior in high school, is likely two years away from the NBA. However, Lloyd reported that one talent evaluator said Bronny currently would benefit from 2-3 years of college basketball.
James’ desire to play with his son only complicates his future. Will he set up his contracts to ensure he has the option to move in free agency when and if Bronny enters the league? If Bronny is not a top prospect by the time he’s draft-eligible, will a team still take him early if it means landing James? Will teams even want a 39-year-old (or older) James by the time Bronny can enter the league?
As ESPN’s Zach Lowe noted on his podcast, regardless of how good James still is at that point, teams would salivate at the possibility of being able to host James’ final year in the NBA.
“Imagine the box office of having LeBron in his potential retirement season?” Lowe said, adding: “Owners enjoy making money almost as much, if not more, than they enjoy winning.”
Since winning a championship with the Lakers in 2020, many assumed James would retire as a Laker. James set fire to that assumption this weekend while once again putting the NBA on notice over his next move.