After being eliminated from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James hinted at the possibility of retiring from basketball.
LeBron said, “I have a lot to think about, to be honest.” “Just me personally, moving forward with this game, I have a lot to think about.”
For the Lakers, LeBron’s retirement will be of high impact. He signed a $97.1 million, two-year extension last year that will pay him an estimated $46.9 million in the 2023-24 season and give him a player option for $50.6 million in 2024-25. While it seems unlikely, it would be a disaster from a team building perspective if he went ahead with that idea.
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What does a potential LeBron James retirement mean for the Lakers adding cap space and Kyrie Irving?
What can the Lakers do if LeBron doesn’t retire?
The Lakers will have many options in free agency this year.
They could have about $30 million in free space to try to sign Kyrie Irving, though they’ll struggle to make up for losing D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura and Lonnie Walker. This figure would be well below the $47 million maximum salary Irving could earn elsewhere.
Trying to be a team with cap space presents some problems. Yes, the team can probably get a high-level player like Irving, who was present in the last match. But they will be very limited when it comes to filling in the rest of the team. He saw firsthand how big of a problem this could be in the first half of his regular season.
If the team decides not to go for Irving, they can make sure they keep Hachimura and Austin Reeves, and make good offers to other free agents like Russell and Walker.
The Lakers would be the luxury tax team going this route. That invoice could be costly, as it would be a repetition tax, which would multiply the money to be paid.
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How can the Lakers replace LeBron James when he retires?
In short, they can’t. If LeBron retires, the Lakers will be in deep trouble. He’s still too good, and the team went 13-14 in the games James missed.
Worse: His $46.9 million salary in 2023-24 and $50.6 million in 2024-25 will still be on the salary tab for accounting purposes. Salary cap expert Larry Coon states in his FAQ, “Any money paid to a player is included in the team’s salary, even if the player is no longer playing or has retired.”
This means that LeBron’s money will not be added back into the Lakers’ potential salary cap space. 35% of his salary cap will be dead money for the next two years.
This will make it extremely difficult to build a good team next season. And if the Lakers fall down in the rankings, they can’t even keep their draft pick. As part of the Anthony Davis trade, the Pelicans have the rights to the Lakers’ 2024 or 2025 first-round pick.
LeBron’s dead money will eliminate many of the Lakers’ free agency options in 2024. They may still have about $40 million in free space, but Anthony Davis is the only player signed through that season and will have to use that money to make ends meet. Whole complex.
The Lakers could get some relief by waiving LeBron and extending the rest of his contract. That would spread his $97 million over five years instead of two, opening up $27.5 million in free space for the summer of 2023 and $31.2 million in 2024.
That way they could get close to $60 million in cap space, which is enough to sign a player like Kyrie Irving. But James will have $19.4 million of dead money on his books through the 2027-2028 season.
Regardless of how LeBron’s situation affects their cap or not, the Lakers also have some avenues to improve the team through trades. They can trade their 17th pick in this year’s draft after the pick. They can also roll over their 2029 unprotected first-round pick and three second-round picks. If they decide not to re-sign D’Angelo Russell, who was falling out of favor closer to the conference finals, they can use that money to sign another player in a potential sign-and-trade. I could
It will be a summer full of interesting decisions for the Lakers, who will have some leeway to improve their team once LeBron returns.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the NBA or its organizations.