LeBron James intends to sign a new deal with the Lakers, AP source says

LeBron James is going to move toward a new contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. Paul George and Klay Thompson may simply be on the move to new teams.

And the NBA's free agency period, which officially starts Sunday, suddenly has some intrigue.

James did not exercise his option to accept what would have been a $51.4 million contract for this coming season and instead is seeking a new deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, a person with knowledge of the decision said Saturday.

The terms of the new deal could be finalized quickly, said the person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither James nor the Lakers revealed the decision publicly. ESPN, The Athletic and the Los Angeles Times all reported the decision earlier Saturday.

Meanwhile, George made a similar decision, the nine-time All-Star choosing to not opt-in for what would have been a $48.8 million contract this coming season with the Los Angeles Clippers — a team that he's spent the past five years with, averaging 23 points per game. He'll become a free agent and is planning to talk to the Clippers about a new deal and also intends to hear pitches from Orlando and Philadelphia, plus potentially others, a person briefed on George's plans told AP on Saturday night.

Saturday's moves came just ahead of the NBA's free agency period, which formally opens at 6 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, though at least $1.2 billion in contracts already have been agreed upon because of new rules that allowed teams to speak with their own players about new deals — in many situations — starting on the day after the NBA Finals.

Among those already having agreed to deals that cannot be finalized until the new league year opens on July 6: Toronto teammates Scottie Barnes and Immanuel Quickley, Miami's Bam Adebayo, Indiana's Pascal Siakam, and New York's OG Anunoby.

It was expected that James would technically be a free agent. It's also been expected that he would stay with the Lakers.

The Lakers selected Bronny James — LeBron James' oldest son — on Thursday in the second round of the draft, putting them in position to have the first on-court father-son duo in NBA history. And with a new deal, it's even possible that LeBron James could sign for a lower number than he could have commanded to give the Lakers additional financial flexibility for other moves.

“He is prioritizing a roster improvement,” James' agent, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, told ESPN on Saturday. “He’s been adamant about exuding all efforts to improve the roster.”

LeBron James is a four-time champion and is about $20 million shy of becoming the first player in league history to top $500 million in on-court earnings. Add in his many off-court ventures and investments, and his net worth has been presumed to be more than $1 billion for some time now.

He’ll turn 40 in December and will tie Vince Carter this season in terms of most seasons played in NBA history; the 2024-25 campaign will be James’ 22nd in the league. He averaged 25.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists last season — as the oldest active player in the league.

And if he's going to leave money on the table, he's going to want a player who can help the Lakers contend for a title again. Among the Lakers' potential targets: Golden State's Klay Thompson, a free agent who could be on the move for the first time in his career.

Thompson, a starter on all four of the Warriors' championship teams of this era and half of the famed “Splash Brothers” duo alongside 3-point king Stephen Curry, has spent all 13 of his NBA years with Golden State. And his status — will he go back to the Warriors or not? — is one of the biggest questions that'll be answered in the coming days. It may not be financially possible for Golden State to retain Thompson.

“We want him back. We’ve said that all along,” Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy said on June 24. “Hopefully he’ll come back. But as far as the specifics and discussions and those types of things, I think it’s important to keep in-house and that stuff. When we figure out a solution to all that, we’ll have news for you.”