Sources — LeBron helps Lakers’ cap by signing contract below maximum

For the first time in more than a decade, LeBron James will play under the maximum amount he was allowed to sign, sources told ESPN’s Bobby Marks, allowing the Los Angeles Lakers to sidestep salary cap restrictions that could impact team composition in the future.

The Lakers announced Saturday that James signed a two-year, $101.35 million extension that would see him play 23 seasons in the league and surpass Vince Carter’s record 22-year career. The deal is about $2.7 million less than the $104 million maximum, sources told Marks.

The contract includes a player option for the second season, which would give James, 39, a standard no-trade clause by playing two consecutive seasons with a one-year guarantee based on 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 activating the $12.9 million mid-level exception. That gesture was for naught after the Lakers were unable to sign either the Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson or the Chicago Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan using either the mid-level 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. It would allow LA to avoid having its 2032 first-round pick frozen and not included in a trade next summer as punishment for having a total roster salary that is well above the salary cap.

Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ vice president of basketball operations and general manager, referred to the punitive nature of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement earlier this week during a press conference introducing James’ eldest son, Bronny, whom LA selected with the 55th pick in the NBA draft.

“We’re in the apron world now,” Pelinka said. “We’ve seen teams that are competing for the title or teams that are playing at a championship level lose players. That’s a consequence of the apron world that we live in. So does it make trades harder? Yes. Does it make good trades impossible? No. So we’re going to continue to pursue upgrades to our roster.”

If LA’s total compensation for the 2024-25 season exceeds $190 million, the Lakers will not be able to recoup more total salary than they spent, effectively blocking potential deals that don’t fit the strict calculus. This is another downside to the second platform.

James has taken only one previous pay cut in his career, in 2010, when he joined the Miami Heat on a two-year, $68.6 million contract. That left $15 million to help the Heat front office assemble a team that has reached four straight Finals and won two championships.

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