LeBron James agrees to two-year deal to stay with Lakers, includes no-trade clause

LeBron James and the Lakers agreed Wednesday to a two-year deal that includes a no-trade clause and a player option for next season for either the maximum or close to it — a sign that his willingness to take a significant pay cut to aid in the team’s effort to build a better roster has expired.

According to people with knowledge of the talks but not authorized to speak publicly, the Lakers and James’ representatives are discussing the possibility of taking money off the two-year, $104-million max contract to keep the Lakers under the “second apron” for team payrolls.

Crossing that threshold, which is at $188.9 million, would severely limit the Lakers’ ability to add to their roster by placing restrictions on the kinds of trades the team makes, including adding players during the season.

Whether it’s through James’ contract or other deal restructuring, someone familiar with the Lakers’ situation but not authorized to speak publicly said the team will end up under the second apron.

The Lakers, who currently have a full 15-player roster, would need to shed salary elsewhere to be able to acquire players via sign-and-trades.

James had told the Lakers that he would be willing to take a significant pay cut should the team be able to use the full mid-level exception or a sign-and-trade to acquire a meaningful piece. The Lakers engaged in conversations with Klay Thompson on the first night of free agency and, despite offering him more years and money, lost out on him to the Dallas Mavericks.

James, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, surprised some people around the league with the initial concession, a departure from the widely-held belief that he would try to maximize his value in every contract (one of the reasons the Lakers were always considered to be overwhelming favorites to retain him).

But as of Tuesday, when the team introduced their two draft picks, first-rounder Dalton Knecht and second-rounder Bronny James, some people within the organization were left feeling like LeBron James signing for the max was now inevitable.

The team has yet to make any free-agency acquisitions this summer, with D’Angelo Russell, Jaxson Hayes, Christian Wood and Cam Reddish all using their player options to return to the Lakers. Max Christie re-signed for four years and $32 million to avoid restricted free agency.

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