EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Nearly all members of the Los Angeles Lakers showed up at the practice facility for their individual exit interviews with coach Darvin Ham and vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka on Tuesday. The exception was LeBron James, who recently expressed his contemplation of retirement after the team’s elimination from the Western Conference finals. In light of this, the Lakers organization is granting LeBron all the time he needs to evaluate his future in the game.
“We will engage in those conversations when the timing is appropriate,” stated Pelinka. “However, I want to acknowledge that LeBron James has made an extraordinary contribution to the sport of basketball, arguably surpassing that of any other player in history. When an individual reaches such a pinnacle, they have the right to decide whether they will continue to give more.”
Pelinka further emphasized the importance of recognizing athletes and entertainers as human beings, susceptible to career-defining moments just like anyone else. As members of the Lakers, their role is to provide unwavering support to any player who finds themselves at such a crossroads. The organization remains committed to offering nothing but assistance and understanding to LeBron during this period of introspection. While they hope for his career to continue, their primary focus is to grant him the necessary time and space for his decision-making process.
James’ teammates, who had just experienced the longest postseason run of their careers, expressed a mix of support and disbelief when confronted with the possibility of his retirement after winning four championships and reaching the NBA Finals 10 times.
D’Angelo Russell, in particular, found it hard to imagine James stepping away from the game. “It’d be crazy to see him away from the game, especially when I feel like he still has a lot more to give,” Russell said.
Troy Brown Jr. added his thoughts, acknowledging that at James’ age and considering the physical toll the game takes on his body, it’s natural to have thoughts of retirement. However, Brown Jr. personally believes that James’ love for the game will ultimately drive him to continue playing.
While the Lakers’ season had a rocky start with five consecutive losses in the regular season, it concluded with a disappointing four straight losses to the Denver Nuggets in the conference finals. Nonetheless, Lakers’ coach Ham believes that his first year on the job has laid the foundation for future success.
“This is not just a one-shot deal,” Ham emphasized. “We’re here to stay, and we’ll be a force to be reckoned with. I can guarantee you that.”
Ham’s vision for the team would be significantly bolstered if James decides to return for his 21st season. Although the 38-year-old James is still under contract for the next season and was named to the All-NBA third team in the previous campaign, the toll of the 2022-23 season has taken its toll on him.
A close source to James described it as a “raw time” for the forward. James is reflecting on a season that encompassed a range of emotions, from a disastrous foot injury that sidelined him for a month to exhilarating victories over the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round and the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the second round, to the devastating loss in Game 4 against the Nuggets despite his impressive performance of 40 points in 48 minutes.
Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager, acknowledged that James is going through a reflective period and stated that as long as James is committed, the franchise will continue to build around him and Anthony Davis as the team’s pillars. Davis, like James, is under contract for the next season. Max Christie is the only other player with a fully guaranteed deal for the Lakers in the 2023-24 season, while Jarred Vanderbilt has a small partial guarantee. It is expected that the Lakers will exercise their option to keep Vanderbilt.
“LeBron and AD as the foundation is an unparalleled combination that we will continue to rely on and build around,” Pelinka affirmed. “We are proud of the superstar duo and want to invest in their growth and success from this season into the next.”
While James and Davis are integral to the team’s success, the Lakers also need to make crucial decisions regarding the rest of the roster. D’Angelo Russell has the opportunity to sign a two-year, $67.5 million contract extension until June 30, after which he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The Lakers have team options on Malik Beasley ($16.5 million) and Mo Bamba ($10.3 million) for the upcoming season. Additionally, Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves are restricted free agents, allowing the Lakers to match any outside offers they may receive to retain their services.
Pelinka emphasized the team’s intention to keep their young core intact, acknowledging the tremendous growth and achievements of players like Rui, Austin, Vando, and D-Lo. The Lakers value these young players and are determined to piece together a cohesive puzzle for the future.
According to sources who spoke to ESPN, L.A. intends to maintain Hachimura and Reaves since they both contribute to the organization’s culture going ahead.
Russell divides opinions the most among the others.
Russell Westbrook was an obvious improvement over him for the majority of the time after he was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves at the trade deadline, but Russell struggled against Denver and was benched for Game 4. He only managed to score 6.3 points per game on 32% shooting (13.3% from three) and 3.5 assists for the entire series. On Tuesday, he made a number of interesting remarks, among them the declaration that his second term with the team had been a “complete success.”
He continued, “I simply give the glory to my intelligence, my knowledge of the game, and just knowing how to psychologically and physically get ready for what I was about to walk into, to recognise that and activate it. I congratulate myself on that one more. I don’t know what the future holds. I believe you’ll have some success if you form a team with players that are familiar with the game and share the same objectives.
The former No. 2 pick in the 2015 draught by Los Angeles indicated desire in coming back but sounded assured regardless of what transpires this summer.
To be completely honest, I feel like you are you at this stage in your career. I’m also friendly,” Russell added. “I don’t worry about my performance. My identity as a player is clear. I am aware of my abilities. I’m a good player. I am capable of outperforming your point guard. I am capable of outperforming your shooting guard.
While the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs, there is no disputing how caught up the club was in its incredible rise from a 2-10 start to one of the last four teams. And it is widely believed that another attempt next season could bring greater results.