Sources: LeBron deal below max, aids Lakers' cap

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For the first time in more than a decade, LeBron James will play on a contract below the max level he was eligible to sign, sources told ESPN’s Bobby Marks, helping the Los Angeles Lakers avoid salary cap restrictions that could affect their team building in the future.

The Lakers announced Saturday that James signed a two-year extension for $101.35 million that would take him through 23 seasons in the league and edge Vince Carter’s record 22-year career. The deal is approximately $2.7 million below the $104 million max, sources told Marks.

The contract includes a player option for the second season, which grants James, 39, a default no-trade clause by playing two consecutive seasons on one-year guarantees with his veteran status.

James’ representative, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, told ESPN last week that James would be willing to take a pay cut to help L.A. land an “impact player” in free agency by opening up the $12.9 million midlevel exception. That gesture went for naught after the Lakers were unable to attract neither Klay Thompson from the Golden State Warriors nor DeMar DeRozan from the Chicago Bulls with the midlevel exception or a trade package, sources told ESPN.

Thompson was traded to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday and DeRozan was traded to the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

James’ salary allowed the Lakers to avoid the second apron by $45,000, sources told Marks, which would allow L.A. to avoid having its 2032 first-round pick be frozen from being included in a trade next summer as a penalty for carrying a total roster salary well above the salary cap.

Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ vice president of basketball operations and general manager, referenced the punitive nature of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement earlier in the week at the introductory news conference for James’ eldest son, Bronny, who L.A. selected with the No. 55 pick in the NBA draft.

“We’re now in the apron world,” Pelinka said. “We’ve seen contending teams or championship-level teams have to lose players. That’s a result of the apron world we’re living in. So, does it make trades more challenging? Yes. Does it make good trades impossible? No. So we’ll continue to pursue upgrades to our roster.”

If L.A.’s total roster compensation came in north of $190 million for the 2024-25 season, the Lakers would be unable to take back more salary in a trade in aggregate than it sent out, shutting off potential deals that didn’t fit into the rigid math — another penalty associated with the second apron.

James has taken a pay cut only once before in his career, in 2010, when he joined the Miami Heat on a two-year, $68.6 million deal. That left $15 million on the table to help the Heat front office assemble a team that went on to make four straight Finals appearances and win two championships.

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