LEBRON WALKING FROM NBA AFTER DROPPING 40, LAKERS SWEPT?

By Ben Sullivan

LeBron James told ESPN he will consider retirement this offseason.

After scoring 40 points and playing all but four seconds of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 113-111 Game 4 loss to the Denver Nuggets — with his last-second floater to try to force overtime being blocked at the buzzer — James ended his news conference by telling reporters, “Going forward with the game of basketball, I’ve got a lot to think about.”

Following the news conference, James was asked to elaborate and here’s what Michael Corvo of ClutchPoints reported:

After playing 48 minutes (minus 4.3 seconds), dropping 40/10/9, and getting stuffed at the buzzer in the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 113-111 season-ending loss to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, LeBron James concluded his postgame press conference with a dubious cliffhanger.

“I don’t know,” he said when asked to evaluate his age-38 season, in which he (mostly) fended off Father Time. “I love to play the game. I love to compete. I love to be out there for my guys, my teammates, whoever I have that particular year.

“For me, it’s all about availability and keeping my mind sharp…being present on the floor, being present in the locker room and bus rides and plane rides.

“But I don’t know. I don’t know. I think it was okay. I don’t like to say it’s a successful year because I don’t play for anything besides winning championships at this point in my career. I don’t get a kick out of making a conference (finals) appearance. I’ve done it, a lot.”

LeBron could have completed his answer at that point — he knew it was the final question of his final media availability of the 2022-23 season. But, in classic LeBron fashion, he opted to throw in one more nugget (no pun intended).

“But we’ll see. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens going forward. I don’t know. I don’t know. 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 it.”

He dropped the mic and walked out.

The 38-year-old James wrapped up his campaign by leading the No. 7-seeded Lakers all the way to the Western Conference finals.

He played in all 17 of L.A.’s postseason games — including the play-in win over the Minnesota Timberwolves — while still managing a right foot injury that caused him to miss a month straight late in the regular season because of a torn tendon.

James said he heard a pop when he injured his foot against the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 26. He consulted a cadre of medical professionals, several of whom recommended surgery, before finding a doctor he described as “the LeBron James of feet” and was assured he could rehabilitate the injury and return to the court without a procedure.

When asked Monday if surgery could be an option this summer, James told ESPN, “I’m going to get an MRI on it and see how the tendon either healed or not healed and go from there. We’ll see what happens.”

While James admitted his performance was affected by his foot injury after he returned, he said he did not consider shutting down his season early, as was the case in 2021-22, when he missed the final five games because of a lingering ankle injury, and in 2018-19, when he was absent for the final six contests because of a groin strain that hadn’t fully healed.

“I knew I could get to the finish line,” James told ESPN. “Obviously, I knew I had to deal with it and deal with the pain or deal with not being able to be myself before the injury, but there was nothing that made me feel like I couldn’t get to the finish line.”

James was brilliant in Game 4 against Denver, setting a new personal best for points in a half in a playoff game by lighting the Nuggets up for 31 points on 11-for-13 shooting by halftime while playing in the 282nd playoff game of his career.

While he finished with nearly twice as many points as his next closest teammate (Anthony Davis scored 21), James ultimately came up short twice while trying to tie the game down the stretch — first missing a fadeaway with 26 seconds remaining then getting blocked by Aaron Gordon as time expired.

James has one season remaining on his contract with the Lakers, worth $46.7 million for 2023-24, and a player option for the following season worth $50.4 million.

Over the past several years, he has repeatedly made it known that his goal is to play with his oldest son, Bronny, in the league before he retires. As he approached passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record in February, he told ESPN the last thing left for him to accomplish after the scoring mark was, “I got to play with my boy.”

However, he softened on that stance recently. Following the Lakers’ Game 3 win over the Golden State Warriors in the second round — which coincided with the day Bronny declared he would be playing college basketball for USC next season — James adjusted the expectation.

“I’ve done what I’ve had to do in this league, and my son is going to take his journey,” he said. “And whatever his journey, however his journey lays out, he’s going to do what’s best for him. And as his dad, and his mom, Savannah, and his brother and sister, we’re going to support him in whatever he decides to do. So, just because that’s my aspiration or my goal, doesn’t mean it’s his. And I’m absolutely OK with that.”

A source close to James told ESPN that L.A.’s postseason run was taxing on the Lakers star in various ways: the long flights and physical play in the Memphis Grizzlies series; the emotional and mental fatigue in the Golden State series from taking down his old foes; and giving everything he had left to give against Denver and still losing the series 4-0.

 

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