LeBron James is an 18-time All-Star and four-time NBA champion. He’s earned four regular-season MVP awards and four NBA Finals MVPs. He’s not simply going to play basketball for the heck of it.
That’s the backdrop following some recent comments from the 37-year-old forward as he prepares to celebrate his 38th birthday.
In talking to reporters following Wednesday’s loss to his former Miami Heat team, James seemed to question his own future with the Los Angeles Lakers. It wasn’t too subtle, either.
“I don’t want to finish my career playing at this level, from a team aspect. I want to still be able to compete for championships because I know what I can still bring to any ballclub with the right pieces.”LeBron James on Lakers’ struggles
By virtue of their loss to the Heat, a game in which King James scored 27 points with nine rebounds, the Lakers fell to 14-21 on the season. They currently boast the third worst record in the Western Conference and are closer to last place than finding a spot in the play-in tournament.
This losing has apparently frustrated James in a big way, as evidenced by his comments Wednesday evening.
“I’m a winner and I want to win. Playing basketball at this level, just to be playing basketball, is not in my DNA,” James told reporters. “We’ll see what happens and see how fresh my mind stays over the next couple of years.”
The Lakers’ struggles have long been a source of frustration for James despite the future Hall of Famer signing a long-term extension during the summer.
Since winning his fourth title in the Orlando Bubble to conclude the 2019-20 season, James has seen his Lakers post a combined 89-100 record. In fact, Los Angeles is 26-51 dating back to January 7 of 2022.
LeBron James’ latest comments have to be concerning for the Los Angeles Lakers
It’s not like James and the Lakers’ brass have built a strong foundation amid these growing on-court struggles.
Dating back to last season’s NBA trade deadline, there’s seemingly been a rift between the two sides. Despite pushing for the Russell Westbrook trade back in the summer of 2021, James wasn’t happy about the Lakers’ lack of activity leading up to the February trade deadline.
For general manager Rob Pelinka, the idea of mortgaging the future in a futile attempt to remain relevant made no real sense. As we fast forward nearly a calendar year, Pelinka is attempting to save face.
“Let me be abundantly clear: We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract. So of course, we will do everything we can, picks included, to make deals to give us a chance to help LeBron get to the end. He committed to our organization. That’s got to be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”Los Angeles Lakers’ Rob Pelinka on commitment to LeBron James and winning, via ESPN
The primary issue here is a lack of true capital from either a young player or draft pick standpoint to appease James. Los Angeles has in the past pushed back against including their two available future first-round picks (2025 and 2027) in order to acquire another star.
Now that Russell Westbrook is in a contract year, there’s a chance Los Angeles uses his expiring contract to get something done. But short of offering up those two future firsts, it’s not going to move the needle too much. In fact, Westbrook has played at an exceptionally high level since taking on a Sixth Man role (15.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 8.0 APG, 42% shooting in 29 games).
The larger issue here is Los Angeles’ roster construction. The injury-plagued Anthony Davis is once again sidelined. With AD out, James has been forced to go battle with a starting lineup that includes the likes of Thomas Bryant and Lonnie Walker IV. That’s certainly not a recipe for success.
- LeBron James stats (2022-23): 27.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 6.6 APG, 50% shooting
As you can see, King James continues to play at an elite level. That’s going to be the case until he ultimately opts to call it quits.
The question here is whether James’ future will be in Los Angeles with the Lakers. While he did sign a two-year extension this past August, it includes a player option for the 2024-25 season.
James has more than earned the right to request a trade if believes winning with the Lakers is not in the cards. Sure we’re not at that point yet. But these latest comments have to be seen as concerning for the Los Angeles’ brass and their fans. The same can be said about comments James has made regarding playing for a Western Conference rival.
Short of things turning around in Hollywood, the New Year will be filled with a ton of rumors surrounding LeBron James’ future with the Lakers. He’s not doing much to quiet this, either.