LeBron James says he’s considering retiring after his Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs. The Lakers are in a bind. When “King James” really breaks up, there are many unanswered questions.
LeBron James is apparently considering retiring from basketball after his Lakers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs by the Denver Nuggets. “I have a lot to think about,” James told a reporter from ESPN .
“He still has something in the tank,” said Lakers teammate Dennis Schröder, who does not believe in “King James” retiring. Coach Darvin Ham joked that at least he could understand it. “After a loss like that,” Ham said, “I might have been willing to retire.”
James’ resignation would be both puzzling and understandable. James isn’t who he was for a decade racking up MVP trophies and rolling over opponents in the playoffs. But at 38 he is still very dominant.
His numbers in those playoffs (24.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists) were outstanding. In Game 4 against Denver, James scored 40 points in 48 minutes.
LeBron James considering retiring from the NBA
This was arguably the most grueling season of James’ 20-year career. The Lakers started the season 0-5. Then 2:10. The experiment with Russell Westbrook turned out to be a flop, the constant attention to it sucking the life out of the dressing room.
A serious foot injury then cost James a month into the season. In the playoffs, he averaged 39 minutes per game. Against Denver it was even 43.
“It’s been a very difficult season for me and for our team,” said James. “And of course we know what was going on in the beginning or whatever the case may be. It was cool, a pretty cool journey.” But is it over?
“LeBron has earned the right to do whatever he wants to do, whatever decision he makes,” said coach Ham. Lakers manager Rob Pelinka added, “LeBron has done more for basketball than any player before. When you do that, you earn the right to decide if you want to give more.”
Dennis Schröder surprised by James’ announcement
There’s more. Much more. The fire still burns in James. The competitiveness. He said so. Dennis Schroeder revealed last December that James told him he wanted to play until he was 45. And after the game he was appalled by James’ statements.
“I don’t know what’s going on, maybe something personal. He had 40 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists in his last game and then he wants to retire? I think he still has a chance for a few more years.”
“King James” best scorer in NBA history
Back in February, after James broke the all-time NBA point record, he said he “surely” could play a few more years. James has also repeatedly stated his intention to play alongside his son Bronny for a season. Bronny will play for USC in college next season and could be draft ready in 2024.
“I love playing the game,” James said. “I love to compete. I love being out there for my boys, my teammates, whoever I get to play for that year.”
There could be another reason why James is hinting at the resignation: leverage. James has one year left on his Lakers contract. It’s likely he wants LA to do whatever it takes to have a strong roster.
James wants a winning team around him, regardless of draft picks and young players. The threat of resignation could be a device James uses to ensure they pull through.
To keep James, the Lakers must form a winning team
The Lakers want to build a winning team around James. But not at any price. Basketball will still be played in Los Angeles after James’ departure. Like it or not, the Lakers need to be prepared. LA already submitted a first round pick before the last trade deadline. Maybe they’re tired of giving away more future for James’ desires.
That could pose a mystery. On Tuesday, Pelinka made it clear that the team wants to build on its young players. “I would say that our intentions are to keep our core of young players together,” said Pelinka. He called the continuity of the squad a “high priority”.
That means new contracts for future free agents Russell, Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves. That means most of the available headroom will be gone.
“We feel like we have special players in the dressing room who enjoy playing together,” Pelinka said. “We know we can still grow and improve in this group, especially if we do a training camp together.
Lakers: Russel, Hachimura and Reaves would have to go
But what if James wants something else? What if James, fed up with Russell’s erratic throwing, wants an upgrade? Kyrie Irving sat on the sidelines on Monday. Irving and James have a long relationship. James knows he can win a championship with Irving as his co-star.
To sign Irving, however, the Lakers would have to gut their roster. Russell would be gone then. Hachimura too. Reaves could get too expensive. And LA would have to tie themselves to the unpredictable Irving, who wouldn’t sign for less than a three-year deal.
It’s hard to believe that James is really going to retire. He’s too good, too combative, and too confident that he’ll continue to be one of the NBA’s biggest stars. A few weeks off from the game will give him renewed strength. The Lakers need him. Without him everything goes down the drain.