LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors’ tax bill and what else to watch in 2023 NBA free agency

The NBA offseason never stops.

More than 160 players have already signed new contracts, and the vast majority of roster spots are filled heading into training camp in September. But there are still plenty of storylines to keep an eye on — and we’re not just talking about the futures of Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell, both of whom will have an impact not only on this season but on the summer of 2023.

If that free agency period began right now, the class would be considered historic. Six of the top available players either have won a regular-season MVP or were a key part of a team that won an NBA championship.

However, with 11 months to go before 2023 free agency officially opens, expect that class to shrink between now and then.

It starts in Los Angeles, where LeBron James is faced with a decision on whether to extend his contract or become the most sought-out free agent in 2023.

James, at least for now, is the headliner of a 2023 offseason for which nearly half the league’s teams are projected to have cap space.

 

LeBron James

The top free agent in the 2023 class could be off the market on Aug. 4.

That’s the day James becomes eligible to sign a two-year, $97.1 million extension with the Los Angeles Lakers. The two-year term is the maximum allowed under the CBA because of the over-38 rule.

By agreeing to a new contract, James would bump his career earnings to $532 million, the most ever for an NBA player (a record that is sure to fall in the coming years as player salaries continue to grow).

Even if James signs an extension, the Lakers project to have nearly $23 million in cap space next summer (and if he doesn’t sign an extension, that number is about the same because of his cap hold, which would be on the Lakers’ books until he re-signs or signs elsewhere). That number could increase if Talen Horton-Tucker declines his $11 million player option or he is traded before then.

While that cap space is significant, it’s not enough to add a max-level free agent, which is part of the reason the Lakers should feel a sense of urgency to swap Russell Westbrook for Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving or multiple players under contract for next season even if that means a future first-round pick is lost.

The Lakers would acquire Irving’s Bird rights in a trade, allowing them to exceed the cap to sign the free agent guard next offseason.

If the Lakers can’t find a Westbrook deal to their liking, they could use their cap space next summer to add multiple players around James and Anthony Davis, similar to what they did in 2019, when they signed Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee — which helped them win a championship that season.

The great unknown is what could happen if James does not extend and plays out the season on an expiring contract.

Until a James extension is signed in Los Angeles, the Cleveland Cavaliers should be a team to keep an eye on next offseason.

Cleveland doubled its win total from the 2020-21 season (22 to 42) and was one of the best success stories last year, despite losing in the play-in tournament.

The Cavaliers have a strong nucleus consisting of Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and could have more than $30 million in cap space in 2023.

Would James return for a third tenure in Cleveland if he views the Lakers roster as not championship-worthy?

Author: Lucy Green