Sources – LeBron helps Lakers raise salary cap by signing below-max deal

For the first time in more than a decade, LeBron James will play for less than the maximum contract he was eligible to sign, sources tell ESPN, helping the Los Angeles Lakers avoid salary cap constraints that could impact their future team buildup.

The Lakers announced Saturday that James has signed a two-year, $101.35 million extension that will see him spend 23 seasons in the league and surpass Vince Carter’s record 22-year career. The deal is about $2.7 million short of the $104 million cap hit, sources told Marks.

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

James’ representative, Rich Paul, told ESPN last week that James would be willing to take a pay cut to help Los Angeles land an “impact player” in free agency by opening up the $12.9 million mid-level exception. That gesture went unanswered after the Lakers failed to lure Klay Thompson from the Golden State Warriors or DeMar DeRozan from the Chicago Bulls with 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.

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James’ salary allowed the Lakers to avoid a second-round pick by $45,000, a source told Marks, which would allow Los Angeles to avoid freezing its 2032 first-round pick from his inclusion in next summer’s trade as a penalty for carrying a total roster salary well above the salary cap.

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

“We’re in a world of aprons now,” Pelinka said. “We’ve seen teams that are contenders or teams that are at the championship level have to lose players. That’s a result of the world of aprons that we live in. So, does that make trades more difficult? Yes. Does it make good trades impossible? No. So we’re going to continue to look to upgrade our roster.”

If Los Angeles’ total roster compensation exceeds $190 million for the 2024-25 season, the Lakers won’t be able to recoup more salary in a total deal than they sent out, closing off potential deals that don’t fit the strict math — another penalty tied to the second apron.

James has only taken a pay cut once in his career, in 2010, when he joined the Miami Heat on a two-year, $68.6 million deal. That meant $15 million was available to help the Heat’s upper management assemble a team that went on to four consecutive Finals and win two championships.

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