EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — After spending a significant chunk of his offseason deliberating his NBA future, LeBron James eventually determined what those around James, the Los Angeles Lakers and the league itself believed would be inevitable.
No way would James retire. Undoubtedly, he would return for his 21st NBA season. But the reasons went beyond fulfilling his two-year, $97.1 million contract with the Lakers. They even went deeper than James’ quest to win his fifth NBA championship after the Denver Nuggets swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The reasons also largely has to do with James’ son, who recovered from cardiac arrest this summer during an off-season practice before his freshman season at USC.
“I’m going to dedicate this season to Bronny because the incident that happened this summer and understanding that it puts everything in perspective,” James said at the Lakers’ media day on Monday at the team’s practice facility. “No matter what is going on … the only thing in life that matters is your family. To see what he had to go through or what he’s been through the last few months, it’s been a lot. I can only imagine how it’s been for him. It’s been a lot for me and it’s been a lot for our family. But the man above has definitely given us a lot of strength and has given Bronny a lot of strength to bounce back.”
After experiencing what he described as a “whirlwind,” James reported that “Bronny is doing extremely well” and has “begun his rehab process to get back on the floor this season” ahead of its opener against Kansas State on Nov. 6
“If he was to walk through the door right now, you wouldn’t even know he had what he had because of how well he’s moving and how vibrant he is,” James said of Bronny. “It’s a beautiful thing to be able to have him where he is today. I give the biggest compliment and biggest shoutout and biggest praise to the USC training staff and coaching staff.”
James’ recent adversities hardly compare to what Bronny experienced. He suffered a cardiac arrest during a practice on July 27, which then resulted in being taken to a nearby hospital and intensive care unit before being formally discharged. But James, who will turn 39 on Dec. 30, dealt with his own basketball mortality in recent months.
Not only did James weather frustration with the Nuggets sweeping the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. James reported that he “pretty much tore my tendon in his right foot,” which resulted in missing 13 games from February to March before playing with varying success and struggles during the Lakers’ post-season run. After the Lakers’ Game 4 loss, James then suggested that he may retire.
“I was exhausted. I was tired. Mentally, I was in too many different places mentally,” James said. “That’s what drew that comment and that statement. That’s how I felt at the moment. But I’m happy to return this season and help this team and hopefully lead this team to the promise land.”
That’s because James believes that he “got a lot more in the tank to give.”
LeBron James provides update on foot injury at Los Angeles Lakers media day
After spending most of his offseason rehabbing his right foot, James said that it is “getting back to where it needs to be” and that it has “been reacting very well on my off-season workouts.” James has jokingly referred to Lakers forward Rui Hachimura as my “understudy” because of daily workouts in hopes to expand his game. And James organized a minicamp in San Diego last week that consisted of informal practices and team dinners.
“I’ve put in the work on the court, off the court, keeping my mind fresh, keeping it as fresh as I can, keeping my body as fresh as I can,” James said. “Keeping my game as sharp as I can and just pouring it all into the sport that I’ve loved for a lot of years now. I think that’s definitely helped me get to this point.”
Another important factor that has helped James get to this point? It all traces back to his Bronny and the rest of his family.
Not only did Bronny inspire James with how quickly he recovered from his cardiac arrest. James became enthralled with coaching his other son, Bryce, and his AAU team at the Peach Jam tournament ahead of his junior season at Notre Dame High school in Sherman Oaks.
“Being around those kids with our AAU program, they were out there competing and wanting to win and putting everything out on the line,” James said. “It had nothing to do about social media clicks, money or fame or none of that stuff. They were just playing to be able to put themselves in position to possibly win Peach Jam.”
Can James also put himself in a position to help the Lakers win an NBA championship?
The Lakers are aware that there are other viable championship contenders, including the Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. Some of those teams could dethrone the Nuggets amid blockbuster off-season trades among Phoenix (Bradley Beal), Milwaukee (Damian Lillard) and Boston (Jrue Holiday, Kristaps Porzingis).
But just like the Nuggets showed last year during their playoff series against the Lakers, Denver eventually won an NBA title by ensuring health and continuity around its star player (Nikola Jokic).
That development partly influenced the Lakers to prioritize continuity with their own roster. After granting Anthony Davis a three-year, $186 million extension, the Lakers raved about how his shooting, boxing and cross training workouts will increase his production and durability. The Lakers also retained key role players that contributed to their deep playoff run (D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Jarred Vanderbilt, Rui Hachimura) while also enhancing their backcourt (Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, Cam Reddish) and frontcourt (Jaxson Hayes, Christian Wood).
“We’re not going to waste any steps. We’re not going to cut any corners, whatever the case may be,” James said. “But there should not be much teaching when it comes to us getting back on the floor.”
The Lakers also anticipate they won’t have to lean on James as much to carry the team as he did to begin last season. Then, the Lakers dealt overlapping injuries, lack of depth and struggles with Russell Westbrook’s fit. The Lakers enter the 2023-24 campaign with superior reinforcements. Nonetheless, the Lakers’ success still heavily depends on James’ health and production.
“I have an urgency to perform at a high level so I can be out there for my teammates,” James said. “I prepare my mind and my body and my soul to go out there and be available to my teammates. I know when I’m on the floor that it makes us a better team. So the sense of urgency comes from me always with preparing myself for the long haul and being able to put myself in a position to lead these guys every single night. If I can do that, that is the sense of urgency for me in order to put ourselves in a position on where we want to be. We’re all here for one common goal. That’s to win a championship.”
To win that championship, the Lakers may still try to scale back James’ workload. Consider the difference in minutes that James averaged during the Lakers’ 2020 NBA title season (34.5) and when they missed the playoffs in 2021-22 (37.2) James also carried a different workload last season before the All-Star break (36.3) and afterwards (32.2). Both splits traced back to the Lakers’ roster construction around James.
Don’t be surprised then if the Lakers scale back James’ workload even more in his 21st NBA season. After all, James conceded “it feels different getting out of bed every day” at 38 years old than he did at age 21. James also expressed uncertainty on whether he would exercise his player option to return for the 2024-25 season.
“I don’t know,” James said on whether the 2023-24 campaign will mark his last year. “I’m happy right now. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and getting to training camp going and getting going. But I don’t know what the end of this road looks like or the end of this season. I have no idea.”
LeBron James to play in 2024 Summer Olympics?
James only had relative clairvoyance about his participation level in the 2024 Paris Olympics after Team USA finished in fourth place in the FIBA World Cup.
“I do have interest,” said James, who already won Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012. “We’ll see what happens. But as far as the physical toll? I don’t know. I’ll see how I feel at the end of the season. But from the players that we have here that I can think of at the top of my head to fill that roster up, I don’t think it’ll be much of a physical toll. I wouldn’t have to do much: rebound a little bit, pass a little bit, defend, block some shots. We’ll see.”
James navigates a bigger unknown on what exactly his 21st NBA season will entail with both delaying Father Time and setting more milestones. Yet, he plans to lean on an important driving force.
“A lot of emotions for our family this summer. But the best thing we have is each other,” James said. “We stuck behind each other and gave Bronny strength throughout the whole process. We’re happy to see where he is today. We’re looking forward toward seeing what his future still has in store for him.”