With his comments following the Lakers’ season-ending loss to the Nuggets in the Western Conference final, LeBron James indirectly introduced the topic of a potential retirement with vague, cryptic comments.
The 38-year-old never specifically mentioned the word “retirement,” but James was measured with his responses as the night of May 22 — and the Lakers’ Game 4 loss to the Nuggets — stretched into the early morning of May 23, telling reporters that he’s “got a lot to think about” and reiterating the same separately to ESPN.
But, for now, it appears the belief is that James will return and “fulfill his contract” with the Lakers in 2023-24, according to an ESPN story that cited an anonymous source close to James.
If James did decide to retire, it’d mark a stark pivot from his previous plans to play alongside his son, Bronny, in the NBA, especially since Bronny will enter college at USC next year — the last season remaining on the two-year, $97 million deal James signed with the Lakers in August 2022.
The end of a historic career appeared to emerge as a possibility, though, with James’ comments earlier this week.
In an interview with ESPN postgame, James was asked about “what thread should we be pulling” from his press conference answer, and James responded with, “If I want to continue to play” — before confirming that he was, in fact, referring to the decision of playing or not playing next season.
Reporting from Bleacher Report echoed a similar tenor, and James didn’t address reporters Tuesday when the Lakers held their exit interviews.
But general manager Rob Pelinka said that “We’ll look forward to those conversations [with James] when the time is right,” acknowledging that the franchise will give James time to consider his decision.
“LeBron has given as much to the game of basketball as anyone who has ever played,” Pelinka said. “When you do that, you earn a right to decide whether you’re going to give more. … Obviously, our hope would be that his career continues, but we want to give him the time to have that inflection point and support him along the way.”
James, who has spent the last five seasons with the Lakers and won a championship with them in 2020, averaged 28.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game throughout the 2022-23 season, helping Los Angeles topple the No. 2-seed Grizzlies and No. 6-seed Warriors in the first and second rounds of the playoffs, respectively.
But Los Angeles couldn’t replicate its postseason success against the Nuggets in the conference final.
James averaged 27.7 points per game in the series, including a 40-point outing in Game 4, but the Lakers were still swept.
Then, their offseason of uncertainty — with James, with their plethora of free agents, with everything that trickles down from those looming questions — began, though it appears that some clarity has started to emerge.