LeBron James is back with the Lakers (and his contract determines their outlook)

LeBron's new contract will determine the Lakers season.
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers brought back LeBron James on July 3. It was expected, but the franchise hoped for a different outcome. King James was reportedly willing to take less if the Lakers could find a significant roster upgrade. They attempted to acquire Klay Thompson, James Harden, and others, but could not make it happen.

Bringing LeBron back was a must for LA to contend. The 39-year-old was their best player in 2024 and is still elite. James is also the biggest star in basketball. The Lakers had to give the GOAT what he wanted, but it came at a price.

The front office and LeBron's agent Rich Paul are still working on the details. Both sides may want him to take slightly less than the max to avoid the dreaded second tax apron. If LeBron refuses, the Lakers must trim some salary to maintain roster flexibility.

LeBron’s contract determines Lakers outlook

If LA is over the second tax apron, they face several restrictions, including losing the ability to take back more money than they send out in a trade and being unable to aggregate salaries. The Lakers would virtually be stuck with their current roster.

If King James wants to contend for a championship, LA needs more talent. The Lakers struggled on defense and lacked shooting in 2024 and have yet to make a significant upgrade. They were in the Play-In Tournament and got bounced by the Nuggets in five games in the opening round of the playoffs. The Lakers may be healthier, but that is not enough.

LeBron’s contract will determine their fate. If King James takes the max, the Lakers will be in the playoff mix, but well short of title contention. James could take less to improve their flexibility, but the front office's failure to add this offseason may make his decision easier.

Los Angeles likely runs it back and hopes J.J. Redick and Dalton Knecht can make an impact. Relying on a first-year head coach and a rookie wing to make the Lakers title contenders is a recipe for disaster, but the franchise appears to be out of options.

The Los Angeles Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Fans will still believe but should set realistic expectations. Giving LeBron a maximum contract likely puts them back in the Play-In Tournament and fighting for one of the final two playoff spots. Not where the Lakers want to be.