Exit interviews are commonplace in professional sports at the end of the season. One notable player was absent from such meetings for the Los Angeles Lakers. A day after the Lakers were wiped out 4-0 in the Western Conference Finals by the Denver Nuggets, LeBron James is given all the time he needs to assess his future.
James is pondering whether to return for a 21st NBA season. Teammates, many of whom have just completed the longest playoff run of their careers, have mixed emotions about James possibly retiring from the NBA. D’Angelo Russell said, “It’d be crazy to see him away from the game, especially when I feel like he has much more in the tank.” Despite playing in only 55 games, James averaged 28.9 points per game and 40 points in 48 minutes in the series-ending loss to the Nuggets.
Tony Brown Jr, a 23-year-old who played 76 games in his first season with the Lakers, added. “I feel like that’s human nature to be his age and be playing at the level he’s playing and putting his body through that much work. I feel like because of his love of the game, he will continue to play.”
James is under contract for next season, but it was one that was rough on him physically and emotionally. From the lows of a foot injury to the highs of winning the first two rounds of the playoffs, back to the lows of getting swept by the Nuggets leaves James wanting time to reflect before deciding upon his future.
The Lakers will give James time to decide, but general manager Rob Pelinka believes as long as James is on board, the teams will build around him and Anthony Davis. Max Christie is the only other player on the roster, along with James and Davis, with a guaranteed contract for 2023-24.
Russell could sign a two-year extension worth over $67 million up until the end of June. If he does not sign, he will become a free agent. Other key pieces include Malik Beasley, Mo Bamba, Rui Hachimura, and Austin Reaves, who either have options or will become free agents.
Russell struggled against the Nuggets and didn’t start in the final game. He scored only 6.3 points per game and shot a woeful 32 percent from the floor, including an even more dismal 13 percent from three-point range.
The Laker’s departure in four games was a disappointment at the moment, but reflecting on the season, they made an improbable run. After a 2-10 start, the Lakers looked dead in the water, yet made it to the final four teams. Much of the success has to do with the return of James late in the season.
The question remains whether the NBA’s all-time leading scorer will return for a run at a 5th NBA title in 2023-24 or ride off into the sunset. He had mentioned he wants to stick around long enough to play with his son Brony, who has just committed to play for USC. That might be enough to bring James back into the fold in 2023-24.