The Los Angeles Lakers brass certainly would like superstar LeBron James to return for another season in the NBA.
Less than 24 hours ago, the Lakers’ season came to a close when they lost a fourth straight game to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals. After Game 4, James told reporters he would have to think about his basketball future.
The four-time NBA champion later elaborated, saying that he will consider retirement during the offseason.
“I’ve got to think about it,” James said.
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James was a no-show for the Lakers postseason media exit interviews Tuesday, but his absence was magnified considering that he just hinted he could call it quits.
But Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and coach Darvin Ham said they plan on speaking with James in the near future about his plans for next season.
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“We all know that [James] speaks for himself, and we’ll look forward to those conversations when the time is right,” Pelinka said. “LeBron has given as much to the game of basketball as anyone who has ever played. 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.”
Even at age 38, James is still one of the best players in the league. On Monday night, he produced an impressive 40-point performance, 31 in the first half.
“Coming off a tough loss like that, the work we’ve put in this season, I think I was ready to retire after last night, too,” Ham joked.
James’ nagging foot injury, which may require offseason surgery to fully correct, may have factored into his postgame comments. He was sidelined during the last month of the regular season but returned to form just before the postseason began.
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“When there’s any injury, you seek multiple medical opinions, and there were some that doubted whether he could play again this season,” Pelinka said.
“For him to end the season playing virtually 48 minutes and posting a virtual 40-point triple-double as a player in the 20th year of his NBA career is staggering. … Clearly he’s got the right recipe, because to go from doctor opinions saying your season may be over to ending it the way he did last night is breathtaking.”
The Lakers’ roster features a fair amount of young players on short-term contracts. But Pelinka noted that he considers James and Anthony Davis the pillars of the roster.
The moves the Lakers’ front office made just before the trade deadline helped lift the team to an 18-8 regular-season finish. LA then advanced to the conference finals after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round and the Golden State Warriors in the conference semifinals.
But two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray proved too much for the Lakers to overcome in the conference finals.
“We ultimately got knocked out by a team that has great continuity,” Pelinka said. “They’ve got a group of players that have been together for several seasons, and it shows in the way they play. We feel like we’ve got special players in the locker room that enjoy playing with each other. We know there’s more growth and improvement in that group, especially if we get a training camp together.”
One player Pelinka will prioritize re-signing is Austin Reaves, who had a breakout 2022-23 season.
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Reaves and Rui Hachimura are restricted free agents, but the Lakers’ most prominent unrestricted free agent is point guard D’Angelo Russell.
Russell played well during his second stint in Los Angeles in the regular season. But his play dipped once the playoffs started, and he eventually was benched.