Outside of a potential Russell Westbrook trade, the biggest storyline surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers this summer was LeBron James’ contract and his future with the team. The 2022-23 season was the last season on the books for James, who could have leveraged that to his advantage.
Instead, LeBron made the surprising move of signing an extension without the team making a Westbrook team and going all-in on contending. The extension is for two years and is worth $97 million, giving him an estimated salary of $46.9 million next year with a $50 million player option in 2024-25.
It has quickly become clear why LeBron was willing to jump on an extension and not wait for the team to trade Westbrook first; his decline against father time is starting and just 10 games into the 2022-23 season, that extension looks like it might have been a big mistake.
The Lakers are overpaying LeBron James for what he is offering the team.
Of course, it is a small sample size and LeBron could turn this around to make us eat crow. But as it stands right now, it is impossible to be impressed with what the four-time MVP has done for the Lakers this season.
His numbers are still good but it is not like he is playing at the elite level that fans were accustomed to seeing even last year when the Lakers were having their struggles.
LeBron is averaging 24.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game this season. That might seem great, but his performance goes deeper than the basic box score numbers. His shooting and efficiency marks are the worst that they have been since his rookie season. LeBron is shooting 44.7% from the field, 21% from three (on 6.9 attempts) and 68.2% from the free-throw line (in a career-low attempts per game).
He currently has the lowest PER and True Shooting Percentage since his rookie season while also posting the lowest win-shares/48 minutes of his career. Again, small sample size, but these numbers are far from promising.
We have already seen James miss a game with a sore foot as well. While this is simply the team’s attempt to keep him fresh, he hasn’t necessarily been the most healthy player in the league the last two years as a 38-year-old human body is not the same as a 28-year-old human body.
Those that have watched the Lakers have seen why this is concerning. LeBron simply does not have the same explosiveness and first step to the basket that he had even last season. Granted, a big struggle is a fact that the floor spacing is so bad that teams can sit in the paint, but the athleticism is not there.
LeBron has become more of a spot-up shooter with his decline in athleticism and the lack of shooters around him. And as is overly apparent by now, that is not the style of basketball that LeBron is going to play best at.
It is only going to get worse as he gets older as well. By the time LeBron is in the last year of his deal and is making $50 million, he might look like 2016 Kobe Bryant. And as fun as that team was to watch on Kobe’s retirement tour, it was very bad for a reason: because they were paying old Kobe prime Kobe money.
The same is likely going to happen with LeBron James and with no real assets in the immediate future, it could get much uglier before it gets better for the Lakers.