Last summer, LeBron James, without a pressing need to do so, signed a two-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers that prohibited him from being traded this season, and pushed off his free agency until at least 2024.
In a vacuum, this is a very healthy way for a franchise to operate with its superstar. It builds trust and relieves the pressures of seeking risky short-term decisions. It allowed the Lakers to enter trade discussions with other teams on a more level footing. And it killed speculation about James' future for many valuable months.
But the Lakers, especially right now, live in the opposite of a vacuum. Their season is saturated with extenuating circumstances, and it's weighing on them in the wake of Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving being traded Sunday, not to L.A., but to the Dallas Mavericks.
James, 38, is having an All-NBA-caliber season, naturally increasing the outside pressure to not "waste" one of his final years. The Russell Westbrook trade from 2021 was a failure, and there's a perceived need to "fix" the roster. The Western Conference is as erratic and uncertain as it has been in decades, leaving even a team sitting in 13th place in February, as the Lakers (25-29) are, honestly believing it isn't out of a postseason push.
So this is where James was Sunday when he sent one of his classic coded tweets -- though not that coded really -- after the Lakers finished as a runner-up in the Irving trade sweepstakes.