Dave McMenaminESPN staff writer4 minutes of reading
LOS ANGELES — LeBron James walked down the aisle to leave the arena Monday night, ending his 20th NBA season with an unceremonious sweep from the playoffs, not knowing if it would be the last. An active player.
James told ESPN he will retire this season.
After scoring 40 points and playing all but four seconds in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 113-111 Game 4 loss to the Denver Nuggets — when his last-second floater attempt in overtime was blocked at the buzzer — James finished his message. “Going forward with the game of basketball, I have a lot to think about,” he told reporters at the conference.
Following the news conference, ESPN asked James to elaborate on his statement.
When you say you have to think about things, what thread do we have to pull on that?
“If I want to keep playing,” James said.
Like next year?
Will you walk away?
“I’ll have to think about it.”
James, 38, completed his 20th season in the NBA and led the No. 7-seeded Lakers to the Western Conference Finals.
He played in all 17 of LA’s postseason games — including a play-in win over the Minnesota Timberwolves — while managing a right leg injury that caused him to miss a month late in the regular season with a torn ligament.
James said he heard a pop when he injured his foot on Feb. 26 against the Dallas Mavericks. Before finding a doctor he described as “the LeBron James of foot,” he consulted a panel of medical experts, many of whom recommended surgery. He promised to rehabilitate the injury and return to the court without any procedure.
Asked Monday if he could have surgery this summer, James told ESPN, “I’m going to get an MRI on it and see how the ligament is healing or not. We’ll see what happens.”
While James admitted that his legs have affected his performance since his return, he is not considering ending his season early, as he did last season with an ankle injury that lingered for the last five games and missed 2018. 19, when he missed the final six due to groin pain that had not 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 not being myself before the injury, but nothing felt like I couldn’t get to the finish line.”
James was brilliant in Game 4 against Denver, holding the Nuggets to 31 points on 11-for-13 shooting at halftime while playing in his 282nd career playoff game, setting a new personal best for points in a half in a playoff game. .
While he finished with nearly twice as many points as his next closest teammate (Anthony Davis scored 21), James eventually tried to tie the game twice — first missing a fadeaway with 26 seconds left and then being blocked by Aaron. Garden Time Expired.
James has one season remaining on his $46.7 million contract with the Lakers through 2023-24 and a player option worth $50.4 million for next season.
Over the past several years, he has made it known several times that his goal is to play in the league with his oldest son, Brony, before he retires. When he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record in February, he told ESPN that the last thing left was, “I gotta play with my boy.”
But, recently he backed away from that stance. Following the Lakers’ Game 3 victory over the Golden State Warriors in the second round — which coincided with the day Brony announced he would play college basketball for USC next season — James adjusted the expectation.
“I’ve done what I’m supposed to do in this league and my son is going to make his journey,” he said. “Whatever his journey is, whatever his journey is, he’s going to do what’s best for him. And as his dad, his mom, Savannah and his brother and sister, we’re going to support him in whatever decision he makes. So, that’s my ambition or my goal. Just because, doesn’t mean it’s his. I’m totally fine with that.”
A source close to James told ESPN that L.A.’s postseason run is taxing on the Lakers star in several ways. The Memphis Grizzlies series featured long flights and physical play; The emotional and mental exhaustion from beating his old foes in the Golden State Series; And he gave everything he had left to give against Denver and lost the series 4-0.
When told by ESPN about James’ postgame comments following Monday’s loss, Davis was surprised at first to hear them. Like James, Davis is under contract with the Lakers through next season — one of the few players with contracts on a roster that could see a lot of movement this summer.
But after mulling over the comments for a while, Davis recalled a recent conversation with James when he told James, “I might have one more,” when they were talking about the 2024 Olympics in Paris. James told Davis that he might already be done. Davis, thinking James had misheard him, explained that he was talking about USA Basketball next summer, not 2028 in LA.
James reiterated to Davis that he could have already hung up his sneakers by then.
For now, James will have time to think. He will examine his foot. Looking at how the Lakers look heading into next season, season no. He will decide if he is fit for 21.
While one side of him wonders if it’s time to go, another side is still in it.
Asked by ESPN if a full summer of rehab could return him to the player he was before the leg injury, James nodded in agreement.
“Because I’m still better than 90% of the NBA,” he said. “Maybe 95.”