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LeBron James Retiring with Lakers Is 'A Priority' for LA, Says Jeanie Buss

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVAugust 30, 2022

LeBron James (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

Los Angeles Lakers president Jeanie Buss said the organization has placed an emphasis on convincing LeBron James to retire with the franchise.

Buss discussed the direction of the Lakers with Sam Amick of The Athletic on Tuesday in wake of James' two-year, $97.1 million contract extension and the hiring of new head coach Darvin Ham:

"We have a new coach, and I'm excited to see what he brings and I want to give him all the time and resources that he needs to build a successful program. And I'll stay cautiously optimistic, but it is a big vote of confidence when LeBron James signs a two-year extension, when he had many months to do so (he had until June 30, 2023, to sign this deal). And you know, it was a priority to us. It's a priority to the Laker brand that he retire a Laker. We'll probably enjoy watching him as he approaches becoming the all-time leading scorer in history."

L.A. has trended in the wrong direction since winning the 2019-20 NBA title. It was eliminated in the first round of the 2021 playoffs and failed to qualify for the postseason last year, finishing with a massively underwhelming 33-49 record.

Buss told Amick "we're all judged by wins and losses" and discussed the lack of success:

"[But] last season was a huge disappointment. I think if you look back, exactly a year ago there was a lot of media who predicted us to be at the top. We certainly didn't live up to that expectation, and it was hugely disappointing because you can't possibly contend for a championship if you're not even in the playoffs. So we made some changes. And, you know, I think changes needed to be made."

The Lakers have made some modest changes to their roster, led by depth additions like Patrick Beverley and Lonnie Walker IV, but it hasn't been the type of overhaul that was expected based on missing the playoffs.

Most of the gridlock is related to the inability to find a taker for Russell Westbrook, who carries a $47.1 million salary-cap hit in the final season of his five-year, $206.8 million contract.

As long as the nine-time All-Star, who struggled mightily for most of his first season in L.A., stays on the roster, there isn't enough financial flexibility to add another high-profile player.

In addition, Kevin Durant's decision to remain with the Brooklyn Nets following an earlier trade request likely takes Kyrie Irving, a popular Lakers trade target, off the table.

As things stand, it's going to take a fair amount of internal improvement, a bounce-back year from Westbrook and healthy seasons from James and Anthony Davis for Los Angeles to make its way back toward championship contention.

Despite the high number of question marks, Buss maintained an optimistic tone about the immediate future, telling Amick:

"So there's, I think, a lot of things to look forward to in this upcoming season. But I'm not going to go on record and say we're gonna finish first or second or third, fourth. I'm just—I'm optimistic and believe that this is always a work in progress. And you've got to make changes as needed."

Keeping James for at least a few more seasons is definitely a step in the right direction and removes uncertainty about whether there would be a mass exodus from the roster next summer.

That said, getting him to retire with the Lakers would likely require drafting at least one of his sons, Bronny or Bryce. Playing with his sons is something the future Hall of Famer continues to discuss for the latter stages of his career.

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