LeBron James says he's 'got to think about' retirement — but it seems unlikely to happen this year
- LeBron James said he is going to weigh retirement and his basketball future.
- Few believe James, as he still has two years left on his contract and is playing at an elite level.
After the Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Denver Nuggets on Monday, LeBron James said he needed to consider his future in the NBA.
"We'll see what happens going forward," James told reporters during his postgame press conference. "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."
ESPN's Dave McMenamin reported that in a follow-up interview, he asked James if he was referring to walking away from basketball. James responded, "I got to think about it."
—Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 23, 2023
It was a startling statement. James had just scored 40 points in 47 minutes in an attempt to save the Lakers' season. Though James has noticeably lost several steps on the court, he doesn't look close to finished.
But despite James' comments on Monday, there are several reasons to believe James will be back on an NBA court for the 2023-24 season.
James still has money left on his contract
James still has two years and $97 million remaining on his contract with the Lakers. James signed the extension in September 2022. The contract does include a player option for the 2024-25 season, meaning James could opt out of the deal.
But while James doesn't need the money, he has made getting the most possible out of his contracts a priority during his career.
On Monday, during his postgame press conference, James was asked about the state of the Lakers roster for the 2023-24 season. James noted that he was one of the only players under contract, saying it was unclear how the roster would shape up around him — a potential acknowledgment that he's likely to return next year.
James has been known to apply pressure to management
Never one to sit idly by, James has historically used his own future as leverage with his teams. During his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James repeatedly signed one-year deals, hit free agency, then re-signed with the Cavs. Not only did this make him more money (as he was able to sign for a certain percentage of a rising salary cap), it also put pressure on the Cavaliers to keep improving the team, lest they lose him in free agency.
James is also only a year removed from using the 2022 All-Star weekend to seemingly take shots at the Lakers by publicly praising opposing GMs and talking about one day returning to the Cavs. James comments appeared to be a way to put pressure on the Lakers — who were in the midst of a losing season — to continue to improve and keep James satisfied.
As James noted on Monday, the Lakers only have a few players under contract next year. The team has the opportunity to drastically reshape the roster. One such move could be signing Kyrie Irving, who is a free agent this summer and was in attendance at the Lakers game on Monday. James admitted in an ESPN interview that he was "disappointed" the Lakers didn't land Irving in a trade before this season's trade deadline.
James could be using the threat of retirement to pressure the Lakers front office into reshaping the roster.
James wants to play with Bronny
James has made no secret of his desire to play with his son, LeBron "Bronny" James Jr.
Bronny recently committed to playing college basketball at USC, and he has a real shot at the NBA — ESPN currently ranks him 19th in the class of 2023.
The earliest Bronny can enter the NBA is in the 2024 draft — the same time James can become a free agent. But if Bronny needs to play more than one year at USC, James can also opt into his contract for the 2024-25 season, then reassess his options if Bronny enters the NBA the following year.
The 'retirement tour' opportunity
It seems unlikely that James would want to miss the opportunity to market the retirement tour that would come in James' final season.
Though James on Monday said he doesn't "reflect" on individual seasons and won't until he retires, we know that's not entirely true. He's said before that he considers himself the best player of all-time.
James has seen peers like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and Dirk Nowitzki receive year-long standing ovations and adoration from opposing crowds in the final years of their careers. James would likely receive even greater treatment. Nike would want to make a campaign around it. James' media company, Uninterrupted, would likely develop a project around it, be it a documentary or some other type of special.
James walking away from the NBA with little notice would be a shocking development.
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