Rumors of LeBron James contemplating retirement following the Los Angeles Lakers season-ending loss on Monday sent shockwaves through the NBA world but he may have some ulterior motives.
Shortly after the Denver Nuggets completed their sweep of the Lakers, James sent a message on his future with some cryptic comments.
“We’ll see what happens going forward,” James said. “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.”
Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report quickly followed up with a report that revealed James was considering retirement following the conclusion of his 20th year in the league.
There are reasons to believe James could truly be considering stepping away. He’s 38 years old, has played more than 1,700 games between the regular and postseason, and was fresh off a crushing sweep — just the third of his career.
But James is still playing at a high level and has expressed significant interest in playing with his USC-bound son, Bronny, who could potentially be drafted in 2024. That has led to some insiders believing that the retirement talk could be more of a message to the Lakers’ front office.
“I’d bet on LeBron’s comments in part being a negotiation tactic: I’ll retire unless you go all-in next season,” Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer tweeted. “And the player James probably wants the Lakers to acquire is Kyrie Irving.”
Ramona Shelburne of ESPN also theorized the retirement talk could about be “a leverage play to pressure vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka into retaining some of the core players who’d emerged for the Lakers during this improbable playoff run, or to pursue free-agent-to-be Kyrie Irving.”
Kyrie Irving ‘Ready to Come’ to Lakers: Report
Irving was present for Game 4 at Crypto.com Arena on Monday as an embodiment of the rumors that surfaced this week. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst believes the eight-time All-Star guard is “ready to come to the Lakers,” whether it be via sign-and-trade or as a free agent. James is in favor of that plan and was disappointed when they didn’t land him at the deadline.
“I can’t sit here and say I’m not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent, but [also] someone that I had great chemistry with, and know I got great chemistry with on the floor, that can help you win championships, in my mind, in my eyes,” James told ESPN’s Michael Wilbon in February.
Acquiring Irving would change the direction of the Lakers. LA would go back to having a top-heavy “big three” with Irving alongside James and Anthony Davis. And it would likely result in the Lakers having to part ways with the majority of key role players they acquired at the trade deadline.
“To do it, they would have to pretty much jettison everybody they just picked up, including Rui Hachimura,” Windhorst said. “They’d have to probably waive Malik Beasley. There are sign-and-trade scenarios where if they could get Dallas’ cooperation and maybe sweeten that pot for them, that they could keep more of their roster together.”
LeBron James Played Through Physical, Mental Fatigue
The playoff run was hard on James, who was playing through a torn tendon in his foot that forced him to miss 13 games near the end of the season. James — who said the injury could have been season-ending — is still undecided about getting offseason surgery.
“I knew I could get to the finish line,” James told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “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.”
There was also an element of mental fatigue that weighed heavily on James during the playoff run.
“A source close to James told ESPN that L.A.’s postseason run was taxing on the Lakers star in various ways,” McMenamin reported. “There was the long flights and physical play in the Memphis Grizzlies series; 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.”
James has a decision to make and the Lakers will be waiting on his decision with bated breath.