LOS ANGELES — LeBron James walked down the ramp to exit the arena Monday night, having just finished his 20th NBA season with an unbeaten sweep from the playoffs, unknown -an if this is the last time he will be able to walk as an active player.
James told ESPN that 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 force overtime blocked by buzzer — James ended his news conference by telling reporters, “Get on with the game of basketball, I’ve got a lot to think about.”
After the news conference, ESPN asked James to elaborate on his statement.
If you say you have to think about things, what poison do we have to do?
“If I want to continue to play,” said James.
Like next year?
Are you going?
“I’ll have to think about it.”
James, 38, ended his campaign by leading the No. 7-seeded Lakers until the Western Conference finals.
He played in all 17 of LA’s postseason games — including a play-in win over the Minnesota Timberwolves — while still dealing with a right foot injury that kept him out for a month straight. which was late in the regular season due to a torn tendon.
James said he heard a pop when he injured his foot against the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 26. He consulted with a cadre of medical professionals, many of whom recommended surgery, before finding a doctor whom he described as “the LeBron James of feet” and who assured him that he could rehabilitate the injury and return to the court without a procedure.
When asked Monday if surgery would 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 that his performance was affected by his foot injury after his return, he said he did not consider ending his season early, as happened in 2021-22, when he missed the final five games. due to a lingering ankle injury, and in 2018-19, when he missed the final six games due to a groin injury that had not fully healed.
“I know I could get to the finish line,” James told ESPN. “Obviously, I know I have to face it and face the pain or face that I can’t be myself before the injury, but nothing makes me feel like I can’t reach the finish line.”
James was smart in Game 4 against Denver, setting a personal best for points in a playoff game by igniting the Nuggets with 31 points on 11-for-13 shooting at halftime while playing the 282nd playoff game in his career.
While he finished with nearly twice as many points as his next closest teammate (Anthony Davis scored 21), James ended up shooting twice while trying to tie the game. game down — first missing a fadeaway with 26 seconds left then being blocked by Aaron Gordon as time expired.
James has one season left on his contract with the Lakers, worth $46.7 million for 2023-24, and a player option for next season worth $50.4 million.
In the past few years, he has repeatedly announced that his goal is to play in the league with his eldest son, Bronny, before he retires. As he inched closer to passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record in February, he told ESPN that the last thing left for him to accomplish after scoring was, “I have to play my son.”
However, he softened that stance recently. After the Lakers’ Game 3 victory over the Golden State Warriors in the second round — which coincided with the day Bronny declared that he would play college basketball for USC next season — James adjusted the expectation.
“I did what I had to do in this league, and my son will go on his journey,” he said. “And no matter what her journey is, no matter what her journey is, she’s going to do what’s best for her. And as her dad, and her mom, Savannah, and her brother and sister, we’re going to support her in whatever she does. decision. Do it. So, just because that’s my dream or my goal, doesn’t mean it’s his. And I’m totally OK with that.”
A source close to James told ESPN that LA’s postseason run has weighed on the Lakers star in a variety of ways: the long trip and physical play in the Memphis Grizzlies series; the emotional and mental exhaustion of Golden State’s series from beating its old foes; and gave everything he had left to give against Denver and still lost the series 4-0.
Davis, when told by ESPN about James’ postgame comments after Monday’s loss, was surprised to hear it at first. Like James, Davis is under contract with the Lakers for next season — one of the few players with a deal on a roster that will see a lot of movement this summer.
But after mulling over the comments for a little while, Davis recalled a recent conversation he had with James when he told James “there might be another one in me” when talking about the 2024 Olympics. in Paris. James told Davis he was probably done by then. Davis, thinking James had misheard him, explained that he was talking about USA Basketball next summer, not 2028 in Los Angeles.
James reiterated to Davis that he can hang up his sneakers at next year’s Olympics.
For now, James still had time to think. He will examine his foot. He will see what the Lakers are looking for next season and decide if he will fit in campaign No. 21.
Although there was a part of him that wondered if it was time to go, however, there was a part that was more.
When asked by ESPN if he believes a full summer of rehab will get him back to the player he was before his foot injury, James nodded.
“Because I’m better than 90% of the NBA,” he said. “Maybe 95.”