LeBron James is already trying to leverage the Lakers (and it's working)

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Five
Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Five / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers' season came to an unceremonious end on Monday night at the hand of the Denver Nuggets. For the second year in a row, the Nuggets delivered the final dagger to the Lakers' season. The final moment of the season was a heaved half-court shot by Taurean Prince, which is the most fitting way for this Lakers team to go out.

There are big changes in store for the Lakers this offseason. Several players on this year's team likely won't be back next season as the Lakers enter a true crossroads for the first time since the 2018 offseason.

LeBron James has a player option this offseason and there is no guarantee that he will return to the purple and gold. In fact, when he was asked about his potential future in LA after Game 5's loss, LeBron completely skirted around the question to send Lakers fans into a sense of panic.

While this answer from LeBron may seem ominous, this is not the first time that Lakers fans have done this song and dance. Last year, LeBron flirted with the idea of retiring after being swept by the Nuggets. That, obviously, didn't end up happening.

LeBron is very calculated with everything he says to the media. Everything that is said has a reason and the reason for this is the same as it was in the past: he is trying to leverage the Lakers. At 39 years old, LeBron does not have as much pull as he once did and now he is likely trying to do his best to get what he wants from the team.

LeBron James leveraging the Lakers is already working

Even at the age of 39 with more miles on his body than any player in NBA history, LeBron's attempt at leveraging the Lakers to get what he wants is working. Early reports that have surfaced after the Lakers' loss seem to indicate that the team will give LeBron exactly what he wants.

First: his contract demands. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Lakers are "open" to discussing any deal that involves LeBron returning to the team. This includes a three-year, $164 million max extension.

That is a lot of money to pay someone who will be in his 40s for most of the deal but that is not the only request the Lakers are seemingly fulfilling. According to the same report, the Lakers are "very open" to working with LeBron to help him fulfill his dream of playing with his son, Bronny James.

LeBron has been very open about wanting to play with Bronny and many have theorized that he would leave the Lakers and even take a pay cut to play with whichever team drafts him this season. The leverage is working, as the Lakers seem open to use draft capital on someone who probably isn't a top-60 prospect in this year's draft just to keep LeBron.

Don't get it wrong, taking Bronny with a second-round pick to secure LeBron James is absolutely worth it. Teams throw second-round picks around like they are nothing and this would be a great use of one. It just highlights that the Lakers are bending to LeBron's whims.

The most telling thing, though, will be Darvin Ham's future. Ham does not sound like someone who is secure with his job, and if the Lakers are really going to give LeBron what he wants, then they will likely part ways with Ham.

If that happens then expect the rest of the offseason to go LeBron James' way and for him to ultimately return to the Los Angeles Lakers.