LeBron James reportedly takes slight pay cut to help Lakers duck second apron as he officially re-signs



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LeBron James has officially re-signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, the team announced late Saturday night. This was obviously expected, as the widespread assumption all offseason had been that he would stay put, and reports to that effect surfaced on Thursday. Saturday’s announcement makes it official, but what is more pertinent here are the details of the contract that James wound up signing.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, James will sign for roughly $101.35 million over the two years of the deal (the second of which is a player option). This is around $3 million less than his max, which would have come in at around $104 million. That matters because those savings will allow the Lakers to duck the dreaded second apron in terms of total team salary. They now have around $45,000 in room beneath that line, according to Marks.

Going above the second apron triggers a number of roster-building restrictions that the Lakers simply could not abide. Teams above the second apron cannot aggregate salaries in trades, which the Lakers may need to do at some point this season. They lose access to the taxpayer mid-level exception. They also maintain all of the restrictions that come with going above the first-apron, including access to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception and the ability to take in more money through a trade than they would need to send out. 

Most importantly, ducking the second apron means avoiding a frozen draft pick. When a team finishes a season above the second apron line, its first-round pick seven years later becomes frozen. It cannot be traded until the team has gone four more years without going above the line more than once. If a team does spend at least two of the next four seasons above the line, that pick immediately falls to No. 30 in the first round. This is a restriction the Lakers were simply unwilling to work around. James has sacrificed a bit of money to help them avoid it.

James was reportedly willing to leave more money on the table, perhaps as much as $20 million, with the goal being to open up the non-taxpayer mid-level exception or the ability to sign-and-trade for a big name. The catch was that he had a specific list of players he was interested in, which only Klay Thompson, Jonas Valanciunas and James Harden were on. The Lakers pursued Thompson but missed out as he joined the Dallas Mavericks. Valanciunas and Harden were off of the board by the time their Thompson chase ended. So James simply decided to take something close to his max salary as a major upgrade was no longer available.

The Lakers now have 15 players under guaranteed contracts, including both James and his son, Bronny James. That means, for the time being, major moves are unlikely. They would have to clear a roster spot just to sign a free agent, and while they have reportedly looked into trades involving their two available first-round picks, nothing appears imminent at this time.

For now, James is staying in Los Angeles on a deal that will pay him nearly the max, grant him a no-trade clause and give him a 15% trade kicker in the event that he winds up waiving that no-trade clause to move to another team. Even if there are no more upgrades coming, the Lakers can breathe easy knowing they’ve ducked the second apron and secured the services of an all-time legend for another season.





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