Has LeBron James Won His Last NBA Title?
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference. It appears LA has wasted another year of arguably the most talented player in NBA history. Despite a simply incredible season from LeBron, he's going to miss out on getting ring No. 5 this year. Given that he's 37, it's fair to wonder if James will ever win another title. At this point, it's hard to see a scenario where that happens.
James has been unbelievable this season. As of Tuesday, he's leading the NBA in scoring (30.1 points per game), is fourth in PER (26.42), and is averaging 8.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists in 37.2 minutes per game. It's his best statistical season since 2017-18. Did I mention he's 37? The four-time MVP has put forth a championship effort this season and his teammates have let him down.
The Lakers have James under contract through next season for $44.47 million. Unfortunately, it will be hard to build a championship roster around him since Russell Westbrook will be making $47 million and Anthony Davis will be eating up $37.98 million of the team's cap space. LA will almost certainly attempt to move both Westbrook and Davis this summer, but it's hard to see a scenario where another team takes on their contracts. Westbrook is wildly-overpaid and Davis is constantly injured.
It's likely the best the Lakers can hope for is a slightly better season than they've endured during the 2021-22 campaign. And, frankly, they should have seen this coming. Trading for Westbrook never made a lick of sense and even before the deal was consummated I was warning against it. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka agreed to that deal, he destroyed the team's championship window with James under contract.
LeBron will be a free agent during the summer of 2023 and will be free to go championship hunting. It's possible he could re-sign with the Lakers, who at present will only have Davis under contract for $40.6 million (Talen Horton-Tucker holds a player option for $11 million). At that point, LA could attempt to build around James again with its newfound cap flexibility. It's possibly the Lakers could try to put something together to make a run at another title.
James could also opt to ring chase, but his issue will be finding a contending team with the salary cap flexibility to sign him to a deal in the $35 to $45 million range. Title contending teams typically don't have that kind of cap space. It's hard to find a scenario that works out that way. Cleveland, Golden State and Memphis would all make sense in that kind of move. But James is also pretty comfortable in LA, as is his family. Sticking with the Lakers and building again makes the most sense. Can the Lakers build him a title-contending team? They've done it once.
James could sign a one-year deal, which would give him a chance to hit free agency the next summer when, presumably his son will be part of the 2024 NBA Draft class.
Bronny James is currently listed as a four-star recruit and the 34th-ranked player in the 2023 recruiting class. LeBron has been open about wanting to stick around the NBA long enough to play with his son, then retire. The downside to this scenario is that Bronny is likely to be a relatively high draft pick, which mean's he'd likely be headed to a struggling team. I don't care how good the James boys will be, they can't win a title on their own. And LeBron would turn 40 that season and be in his 22nd NBA season.
On the surface it seems James' only real chance left to win a title will be during the 2023-24 season if the Lakers can pull off a huge, fast rebuild. It feels like that would be a huge stretch. It could happen, but it's hard to see that working out given LA's lack of draft assets to help facilitate trades.
Sure there are scenarios with other franchises that could work, but there's zero chance James takes a huge pay-cut and cedes leadership responsibilities to a another star. And he shouldn't have to.
Given what has been laid out above, it is highly likely the Lakers' bubble championship from 2020 is the final title James will win. Unless something crazy happens, it is increasingly difficult to find a path to a fifth ring for LeBron.