LeBron James is considering retirement – or so he says.
Following the Lakers’ season-ending 113-111 loss to the Nuggets on Monday night, James suggested his days starring on an NBA court could be over.
‘I got a lot to think about,’ he said. ‘Just personally, with me moving forward with the game of basketball, I got a lot to think about.’
Whether James is genuinely pondering whether to conclude his storied career, was upset after being swept or simply had retirement on his mind after close friend Carmelo Anthony called it quits earlier in the day, his comments were a significant admission from an almost ageless player.
Even at 38, retirement seems unfathomable for a player who just scored 40 points in an elimination game.
LeBron James said on Monday night that he ‘had a lot to think about’ in regards to his future
Nonetheless, when a four-time MVP like James speaks, we listen.
Here, Mail Sport takes a look at his options entering this offseason – and ranks the likelihood of each one.
RETIRE.. AND END HIS CAREER AFTER BEING SWEPT
James is a four-time champion, 19-time All-Star and the NBA’s all-time leader in points.
Would he really end his career with a whimper after being dispatched by Denver in four games?
Perhaps in the moment he was dreading the recovery from a foot injury that may force him to have surgery in the offseason, he told ESPN.
Nonetheless, James did his part against the Nuggets, averaging 27.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 10 assists per night.
It was actually his best round of the postseason statistically speaking, and while he’s slipped slightly from his superhuman levels in 2017-18 with Cleveland, it’s clear James is still one of the game’s premier players.
This is not a stat-padding Michael Jordan on the Wizards, or a 43-year-old Vince Carter on a retirement tour with the Hawks.
James is still a winning player, and while he’d likely need more help to win another ring in LA, we don’t see him ending his career just yet.
LIKELIHOOD RATING: 2/10
James’ 40 points were not enough to stop the Nuggets from sweeping the Lakers on Monday
RECHARGE FOR A YEAR… AND THEN JOIN FORCES WITH BRONNY
James has made no secret of his desire to play with his son Bronny, 18, before wrapping up his career.
‘I need to be on the floor with my boy, I got to be on the floor with Bronny,’ James told ESPN in January.
‘Either in the same uniform or a matchup against him,’ he said. ‘. . . But I would love to do the whole Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. thing. That would be ideal for sure.’
Actually emulating the Griffeys, though, will be complicated while James is under contract.
James is under contract for two more years in LA (with a player option for the second), while his son could enter the NBA in the 2024 Draft after playing a season at USC. Statistically speaking, Bronny is unlikely to get drafted by LA.
LeBron could go on to play wit Bronny but doing so in 2024 looks tricky at the moment
Of course, James could simply go to wherever his son is after playing out the next two years of his deal (it seems unlikely that he’d turn a $50.6million player option in 2024-25), but his apparent consideration of retirement would throw a wrench into that plan.
If James officially retires while still under contract – as in, he and the Lakers file paperwork to the league – he would be placed on the voluntary retired list and forgo the $97.5million remaining on his deal, with that money still counting against the Lakers.
From the moment James’ name appeared on this list, he would be prohibited from appearing in a game for a year unless he got the unanimous consent of the league’s Board of Governors to return earlier.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks called James going through that process ‘highly unlikely,’ and pointed out it hasn’t happened since 2008 with Jason Williams.
If James steps away from the game but does not officially go on the voluntary retired list, his salary would still count against the Lakers’ cap, and they would not get relief unless they agreed to a buyout and James went through the waiver process – another possibility Marks, a former NBA assistant GM, does not expect to happen.
Thus, while James could eventually team up with Bronny, it doesn’t look likely that he’ll use retirement as a vehicle to do so – nor is teaming up with his son likely to happen next year.
LIKELIHOOD RATING: 1/10
Bronny is seen with his dad after competing for his high school, the Sierra Canyon Blazers
CARRY ON IN LA
After a season where James faced persistent injuries and clawed just to get into the playoffs – before making an impressive postseason run – it wouldn’t be shocking if his comments Monday night were just borne out of frustration and exhaustion.
And if he does decide to keep playing after the dust settles on the Lakers’ Western Conference Finals exit, his simplest option would be just staying put.
While the purple and gold fell short of their ultimate goal, they put together a strong roster at the trade deadline with the additions of D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt.
While Hachimura and Austin Reaves (both free agents now) thrived in supporting roles behind James and Anthony Davis, point guard Russell may be on the outs after a poor postseason showing.
And some believe James’ comments after Monday’s loss may have been a calculated negotiating tactic to get even better backcourt talent around him, as James has long wanted a reunion with former Cavs teammate Kyrie Irving – who was at Game 4.
Whether or not the Lakers can afford Irving – or whether they should even want him – is a separate question, but the smart bet is that James will end up leveraging a return to LA into an improved roster.
LIKELIHOOD RATING: 7/10
James won his fourth ring with the Lakers in 2020, and would surely love add to his collection
KEEP PLAYING… ELSEWHERE
If James continues playing, he won’t be a free agent for at least another year, though he could theoretically go the route of other stars like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis (in his Pelicans days) and request a trade away.
While the future Hall of Famer will of course want to maximize his final years on the court, he won’t be expected to upend his roots in LA to chase another ring in a different market.
The founder of the entertainment development-focused SpringHill Company and the star of the last ‘Space Jam’ movie, James seems more tethered to Hollywood than most other players are to their respective cities.
More importantly, leaving LA would mean leaving his family – including Bronny, who recently committed to play at USC in college.
Bronny will stay in Los Angeles to play in college after committing to play at USC
James began his career with the Cavaliers before joining the Heat and returning to Cleveland
On the other side of the coin, James does not have a no-trade clause, meaning he couldn’t stop the Lakers from dealing him. But why would they want to?
James brought the franchise a championship in 2020, and despite battling injuries, has delivered on expectations in LA within some poorly built teams.
‘The King’s days of being the best player on a title winner might be over, but the market for an expensive 38-year-old can’t be that strong and LA would be foolish to jettison someone who’s a tremendous mentor for its younger players.
Perhaps the Lakers, sensing their LeBron era is over, could take advantage of a desperate win-now team like the Suns or Sixers, but they’d probably take their chances of winning with James again.
LIKELIHOOD RATING: 3/10
BONUS: RECHARGE… AND COME BACK A YEAR LATER IN LA
James has been compared to Jordan his whole career, and perhaps he could take a page out of the GOAT’s playbook and take a year off before returning to the same team.
At age 30, Jordan shockingly stepped away from basketball for a year to play minor league baseball before returning during the 1994-95 season and winning another three championships with the Bulls.
And as he’s consistently struggled with injuries in LA, perhaps James would benefit from taking a bit of time off to let his body rest.
Michael Jordan took a year off from basketball to play minor league baseball before returning
While he’s averaged 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists in Los Angeles, availability has been an issue as he’s played just 56 games or less in four of five seasons.
Of course, James is much older than Jordan was when he took his hiatus, and one would wonder whether a temporary break for a 38-year-old would actually turn permanent.
The ultimate competitor and teammate, it would be uncharacteristic of James to take time off on the Lakers’ payroll while his co-workers try and claw their way up the standings.
LIKELIHOOD RATING: 1/10