A few days ago, LeBron James posted what is now a viral video of himself working out with his two teenage sons, Bronny and Bryce, at the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice facility.
To most viewers, it was a reminder of the 37-year-old James’ impressive longevity and how much his children have grown. Underneath all of the sentimental feelings though was also a wakeup call to the Lakers on their fast-closing window of opportunity to win with one of the greatest players to have ever played the game.
His days in the NBA are slowly coming to a close and there is no guarantee that he will be spending them in Los Angeles beyond this coming season. James will become extension eligible on August 4 and there are no indications that the 18-time NBA All-Star is rushing to put pen to paper.
The window for signing a potential two-year, $97.1 million contract that will kick in for the ‘23-’24 season is still far away at the end of June 2023 which gives him ample time to assess his situation. If he chooses not to sign another deal with the Lakers, he will become a free agent next summer for what could presumably be the last time in his career.
The well-known desire of the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player to play with his eldest son Bronny, who will become qualified to enter the NBA Draft in 2024, was believed in previous years to play the most influential role in deciding where he will wrap up his illustrious career.
However, the younger James has not turned into a prospect on the level of his father and is currently ranked outside of the top 50 for the Class of 2023. (An interesting subplot is that the son of the elder James’ former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate DaJuan Wagner is currently near the top of the same rankings.) This makes it unlikely that a high pick will be necessary to draft Bronny in two years’ time and makes it much easier for whatever team his father is on to swoop him up with a pick later on in the draft.
With this hurdle seemingly out of the way–unless Bronny makes an astronomical leap this coming year–the focus returns to the four-time NBA champion’s desire to win at least one more title before he retires. Los Angeles, as currently constructed, clearly does not offer him the best chance to do this even with Anthony Davis onboard.
It will take an overwhelmingly dominant bounce-back season from the 29-year-old Davis to lift this paltry team back into contention. The disgruntled and declining Russell Westbrook still remains on this roster with no trade for Kyrie Irving reportedly on the near-term horizon. Their offseason signings have been solid yet unspectacular and cannot be expected to have a season-changing impact.
Lonnie Walker IV will step in and theoretically fill the sixth man role that the departing Malik Monk played last year. The 23-year-old guard has a prime opportunity to jumpstart his career after showing sporadic flashes of his scoring ability over his first four years in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs.
The more defense-oriented Troy Brown Jr., who is a few months younger than Walker, will also have a similar chance to prove his worth in a bigger role. Now in his fifth campaign, he was unable to build on his promising sophomore year with the Washington Wizards, though he will have the chance to get as many minutes as he can handle on this roster that is thin on overall depth.
He is joined by his former Wizards teammate and returning Laker Thomas Bryant. The 6’10 center found his stride at Washington and was emerging as a solid big man before a torn ACL derailed his ‘20-’21 season. He looked a step slow in his return earlier this year, yet he now has a prime opportunity to rediscover his pre-injury form as the potential starting center for Los Angeles.
Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones are good additions as well although deploying them in anything more than a reserve role is a recipe for disappointment.
These signings hint at the need for some growing pains and could eventually become useful pieces on a good team, but patience is the last thing that the Lakers can afford this season. They need to win and it must happen now.
The team’s unwillingness–or incapability–to wade into the deep end of luxury tax territory, similar to the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, has caught up with them and puts the franchise at risk of squandering another valuable year of James’ career.
Drastic moves will need to materialize before the new season rolls in because this Los Angeles team as currently constructed looks more like a play-in squad rather than a Western Conference contender.
Time is not on their side and the Lakers will have to act now if they do not want to waste what could wind up being their last year with James in the “Purple and Gold”.