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Will Lakers’ LeBron James retire? Those around him remain skeptical

lebron james
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — The words sounded cryptic as LeBron James processed both the Los Angeles Lakers experiencing a four-game sweep to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals and how he still tried to play at an elite level during his 20th NBA season.

“We’ll see what happens going forward,” James said. “I don’t know. I’ve got a lot to think
about, to be honest. I’ve got a lot to think about to be honest. Just for me personally going forward with the game of basketball, I’ve got a lot to think about.”

LeBron James then walked off the podium and out of the interview room. Shortly afterwards, James told ESPN that he will contemplate retirement. Bleacher Report also reported similar developments. James has not made up his mind and mull over that decision in a few days. But a person familiar with James’ thought process predicted that he will ultimately fulfill the remainder of his two-year, $97.1 million contract with the Lakers that includes a player option for the 2024-25 season.

Nonetheless, that person added that James’ retirement consideration captures frustrations beyond the Lakers losing to the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals in a four-game sweep.

James, 38, missed 13 consecutive games from late February to early March to manage a sore tendon in his right foot. Though some doctors initially advised surgery, James abstained after learning he could eventually play without structurally making the foot worse. Nonetheless, James dealt with on-going pain while managing treatment for the Lakers’ final six-regular season games, the NBA’s Play-In tournament and 16 playoff games.  He also felt additional strain with the Lakers’ heavy travel both in the first round (Memphis) and the Western Conference Finals (Denver). Though the Lakers had a shorter itinerary in the second round (Golden State), most games usually took place every other day.

“He’ll go through the process. Mentally, you got to get yourself in a space after coming off a tough loss,” the person familiar with James’ thinking said. “Give him a couple of days and give him space.”

In the Lakers’ Game 4 loss to Denver, LeBron James posted 40 points while shooting 15-for-25 from the field and 4-for-7 from 3-point range along with 10 rebounds and nine assists while playing in all but four seconds of the game. But James missed two opportunities to secure the win in crunch time. With the Nuggets holding a 113-111 lead, James took a 20-foot fadeaway that hit the side of the backboard with 26 seconds left just as the shot clock expired. After the Lakers called timeout with four seconds left, James drove inside only to meet Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon and guard Jamal Murray on a double team. James attempted five-foot floater with 1.4 seconds left, but Gordon blocked the shot. Prior to Game 4, James struggled with fatigue and favored his left ankle at times in both Games 2 and 3. He also shot only a combined 3-for-19 from 3 in Games 1 through 3.

The impact of Carmelo Anthony retirement on LeBron James

carmelo anthony
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James had plenty to think about beyond the Lakers’ playoff fortunes and his own body. Although James said he recorded a tribute to Carmelo Anthony’s retirement a week before he announced the news on Monday morning, the person familiar with James’ thinking said that development affected his outlook on his future. James and Anthony became the top coveted picks of the 2003 NBA Draft and remained close friends throughout their careers.

The two had often talked about teaming up together, but it didn’t happen until Anthony accepted a veteran’s minimum deal with the Lakers last season.  

“What else is there for him to do?” said the person familiar with James’ thinking. “What’s really going to be his motivation?”

LeBron James has won four NBA championships, including with three different franchises (two with Miami, one in Cleveland and one with the Lakers). He has collected four Finals MVPs and four regular-season MVP awards. During the 2022-23 campaign, James climbed to No. 1 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and No. 4 on the all-time assists list.

LeBron James has the chance, however, to join Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan as the main NBA stars to have won five NBA championships. James could also pursue a sixth NBA title, which is something Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Cousy have also done. James has also publicly expressed interest in prolonging his NBA career so that he could potentially become teammates with his son, Bronny, who recently committed to play for Southern California’s men’s basketball team next season. It remains unclear how many seasons of college basketball Bronny would play before declaring himself eligible for the NBA Draft.

“His career is the most complete,” said the person familiar with James’ thinking. “Now, it’s just about being happy playing the game.”

Mark Medina is an NBA Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.