What I'm Hearing: USA TODAY Sports' Mark Medina breaks down why Anthony Davis signed his five-year, $190 million deal with the Lakers. USA TODAY
The franchise has become enamored with hoisting championship trophies and rewarding their star players. So it surprises no one that the Lakers made moves this offseason that will help them defend their NBA championship while also making LeBron James and Anthony Davis feel special.
But the Lakers outlined the difference between putting all of their chips into one season and ensuring long-term investments. And somehow they managed to do both.
By securing a long-term extension with James (two years, $85 million) and a max deal with Davis (five years, $190 million), the Lakers did not just cement themselves as the championship favorites next season who can eclipse the Boston Celtics for the most NBA titles in league history (17). The Lakers ensured they will be the NBA’s next dynasty following the Golden State Warriors’ three-title run in five Finals appearances.
James will remain under contract through the 2022-23 season when he turns 38. Davis will remain under contract for the 2024-25 season, though he has an early-termination clause in his fourth season. It is not a stretch to think that James can hoist an NBA trophy three more times before deciding whether to pursue another contract or retire.
Either way, the Lakers have set themselves up for different paths toward hosting multiple championship parades.
James, who turns 36 in December, has showed no signs of slowing down entering his 18th season. So it seems inevitable that James, who ranks third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (34,241), will eclipse Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA-best 38,387 while wearing the same uniform that Abdul-Jabbar wore for most of his 20 seasons. James will do that while still making his game more about play-making so that he does not exert such a heavy workload.
The Lakers have a history of rewarding their superstars. In 1981, Jerry Buss gave Magic Johnson a 25-year, $25 million extension well before labor deals prohibited such arrangements. In 2012-13, the Lakers gave Kobe Bryant a two-year, $48.5 million extension only months after injuring his Achilles to convey optimism about his recovery and appreciation for his achievements. But the Lakers did not give James a lifetime achievement award. They gave James an extension out of gratitude for what he has and will accomplish.
Even if Father Time finally arrives at James’ door, the Lakers have set themselves up to stay in contention should he retire in 2023. While James will still have influence over the team, he will likely increasingly defer to Davis so that he becomes a bigger offensive focal point. James already took those steps this season when he led the NBA in assists (10.2) partly to empower Davis.
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Meanwhile, Davis will be 30 once James’ contract ends. So he could become the face of the franchise while still in his prime. He would have enough cachet to attract another marquee free agent to play alongside him. Should James remain healthy to sign another deal, he appears versatile enough with his game and savvy enough with his earnings that he could sign a deal that would still leave the Lakers cap room to pursue a third star. That the Lakers took care of their two current stars conveys the message that a third star could be treated the same way.
To think, James easily could have waited to sign his extension. Davis also could have agreed to a shorter deal so that his next free agency would align with James. But the two appear aware they don’t need to exert their flexibility as they did with other franchises.
The Lakers already upgraded their championship roster with more youth and secondary scoring (Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder), frontcourt depth (Marc Gasol) and wing reinforcements (Wesley Matthews). The Lakers would not have landed those players if not for James and Davis giving them a shot at winning an NBA title next season. But the Lakers also would not have secured James and Davis long term if not for making aggressive moves that prove they can widen the championship window beyond one year.
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