LeBron free agency rumors add yet another twist to anxious Lakers offseason

In an offseason that is already chaotic and unpredictable, the Los Angeles Lakers must now stare down the possibility of losing LeBron James to free agency.
Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Five
Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Five / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers are facing an offseason that will go a long way towards testing the creativity of general manager Rob Pelinka. Question marks exist for the Lakers in all three areas of the summer of team-building: The NBA Draft, free agency, and the trade market.

The questions won't get any easier to answer following the latest revelation that LeBron James may have played his last game in the purple and gold.

James' agent, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, recently stated that the four-time MVP will be a free agent this summer. That alone is a major development, as James has a player option worth $51,415,938 that has not yet been formally accepted or declined.

According to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia 76ers are one of the teams that plan to pursue James in free agency.

"The Sixers do have their eyes on other lucrative-salary impact players just in case they don’t get [Paul] George. That’s why they also are looking at potential free agents like the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James and New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby."

It's important to note that the 76ers having interest in James does not mean that the feeling is mutual, but it's yet another wrinkle added to an unsettling offseason.

Lakers lack clarity about options, let alone courses of action

The Lakers will enter free agency with limited cap space, due in large part to the contracts given to James and Anthony Davis. That will restrict the team's options in terms of potential targets, meaning the 2024 NBA Draft and the trade market will likely be Pelinka's greatest tools for team building.

Unfortunately, the New Orleans Pelicans own the rights to the Lakers' first-round draft pick in 2024 and haven't yet committed to either keeping the selection or deferring the acquisition to 2025.

In other words, the possibility exists that the Lakers could lose James in free agency and potentially go without a first-round draft pick in 2024. To make matters worse, any star-driven trade that the organization attempts will likely cost it future draft compensation.

It's also possible that the Lakers will have to part ways with coveted guard Austin Reaves in the event that such a trade is executed.

The outlook is undoubtedly bleak for the Lakers ahead of the 2024 offseason. That doesn't, however, mean that everything will go up in flames this summer, as there are still several opportunities for the Lakers to retool and contend as soon as next season.

That all begins with the realistic possibility that James is simply exploring his free agency options in order to sign a multi-year contract to remain in Los Angeles.

A player declining their player option is often a cause for commotion, but it's typically driven by financial ambitions above all else. For James, who will turn 40 in December, signing a multi-year contract at this stage of his career could allow him to eventually retire on his own terms.

It's obviously unlikely that James would ever go without a home franchise in the NBA, but being paid his desired amount while finishing out his legendary career would be an understandable goal.

Furthermore, the Pelicans are rumored to be considering the option of deferring the rights to the Lakers' first-round draft pick to 2025. The class of incoming rookies in 2024 is admittedly lacking in star power, but having the No. 17 overall draft pick could be of great value.

Players formerly drafted at No. 17 overall include Donte DiVincenzo, Jrue Holiday, and Trey Murphy III—all of whom started for playoff teams in 2023-24.

In terms of a potential trade, there is a possibility that Reaves will not have to be included. The thought of losing even more draft compensation is tough to stomach, but the pursuit of a championship while Davis and James are still playing at an All-NBA level is one that may necessitate risk.

Keep in mind: The last time the Lakers traded significant draft compensation for a proven All-NBA level player, the end result was winning the 2020 NBA championship.

The reality remains, however, that the Lakers are working without the full scope of information at this stage. James could leave in free agency, the Pelicans may keep the No. 17 pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, and Reaves might be a required inclusion in future trade talks. Or the opposite could happen.

Even as deadlines nears for those key decisions, there is a cloud of uncertainty that the Lakers simply will not be able to escape until those choices are made.