Lakers GM says he’ll give LeBron James all the time he needs to determine future

EL SEGUNDO — Whether he was serious about retirement after 20 years in the NBA or simply frustrated and tired after the Lakers were swept from the Western Conference finals on Monday night, LeBron James has earned the right to take his time and determine his future, General Manager Rob Pelinka said Tuesday.

Pelinka said he and Lakers coach Darvin Ham would speak to James in the “coming days” and give him the opportunity to meet with his family, his teammates, his management team and whoever else he might need to talk to before making a decision about the 2023-24 season and beyond.

“We’ll be in contact with him, his team, and really provide nothing but support for him,” Pelinka said during his season-ending session with reporters. “Obviously, our hope would be that his career continues, but we want to give him the time to have that inflection point and support him along the way in everything that he does.”

Said Ham: “LeBron has earned the right to do whatever he wants to do, make whatever choice. I’m not one to speculate, but I just want to thank him, A.D. (Anthony Davis), the rest of the crew, but especially him for being a consistent resource for me this year as a first-time head coach.

“I’ve been around the game for a long time, but transitioning to this seat (as a head coach this season), he (James) was one of the most, if not the most supportive, knowledgeable, communicative resources that I had all year … and there were some challenging times this season.”

Ham referred to the Lakers’ 2-10 record to start the season.

James, 38, hinted rather cryptically in the hour after the Lakers’ Game 4 loss to the Denver Nuggets that he might consider calling it a career, but that he had a great deal to think about before making a determination about his future. He has two years and $97 million remaining on his contract with the Lakers (the second year is a player option).

James became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer earlier in the 2022-23 season, topping Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s league record, a mark once thought to be unbreakable. James finished the season with 38,652 points. Abdul-Jabbar scored 38,387 during his Hall of Fame career.

In addition, James is a four-time NBA champion and a four-time league MVP.

“We’ll see,” he said during his postgame press conference Monday. “We’ll see what happens going forward. 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.”

If the Lakers learned anything from their playoff run and, in fact, their loss to the Nuggets, it’s that continuity in building a winning culture is important. To that end, Pelinka stressed the importance of keeping the Lakers’ core group of players together for next season and beyond as they chase a record 18th NBA title.

James and Davis have been the unquestioned pillars of the franchise for their four seasons together, and it would seem to be critical to keep them together if the Lakers are to continue their climb. After all, they combined to lead the Lakers to their most recent title, a victory over the Miami Heat in the 2020 finals.

“We know the window is always small and, obviously, he’s not getting any younger,” Davis said late Monday night of James. “You know, this is why this was so important to both of us, and it hurts that we didn’t get it done. But you know, we’ll regroup, figure out ways we can be better. Figure out ways I can be better, more consistent for our ballclub and we come back next year ready to go.”

Word of James’ retirement hints spread quickly Monday among the Lakers.

“You never want to see a guy like that not play just because of how good he is,” said Lakers guard Austin Reaves, who has formed a special bond with James during his two seasons in the NBA. “He’s been a staple of the NBA since he got drafted in ’03, basically. … For a guy like that to hint about that, I don’t know. But you never want to see a guy like that leave the game just because of all he’s done for it and the level he’s playing at. So, hopefully, he’s back next year and I get to play with him again.”

Reaves said he texted James after Monday’s loss.

“I just appreciated him for accepting me and really just trusting me and giving me an opportunity to be myself and help us win basketball games,” Reaves said of the words he shared with James. “That was really it.”

Lakers guard Dennis Schröder said he had a difficult time accepting the notion of playing without James on his team. Schroder marveled at James’ near triple-double in the Lakers’ 113-111 loss to the Nuggets in Game 4, when he had 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in 47:56.

“I didn’t see it yet,” Schröder said when asked about James’ comments. “But, I mean, I can’t see that. I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe it’s personal or whatever, but, I mean, to retire and the last game of the playoffs and you make 40, 10 and nine, I think you’ve still got the juice to play a couple more years.

“So, whatever he decides, he’s played for 20 years, we’re going to support him. I’m going to support him and, hopefully, he’s going to come back.”

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