The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping LeBron James will decide to continue his career after recovering from a difficult end to the season.
James didn’t meet with the media the day after the top scorer in NBA history said he needed time to think about his basketball future after the Lakers were eliminated from the Western Conference Finals.
James, 38, skipped his team’s exit press interviews after the previous season, but his decision on Tuesday left Lakers fans in the dark about his intentions with his puzzling comments after a four-game win over the Denver Nuggets.
General manager Rob Pelinka and coach Darvin Ham said they would soon be speaking to James about his future.
“We all know that (James) speaks for himself and we look forward to those talks when the time is right,” Pelinka said. “LeBron gave as much to the game of basketball as anyone who has ever played. By doing so, one earns the right to choose whether to give more. … Of course our hope would be that his career continues, but we want to give him the time to reach this turning point and support him on his way.”
Despite James’ 40-point performance, including 31 points he scored in the first half with a career-best 31 points in the playoffs, the seventh-seeded Lakers were beaten by the top-seeded Nuggets in Game 4 Monday night with 113 :111 defeated, ending James’ performance. Attempting to win his fifth career championship in his 20th NBA season.
Ham joked: “After such a tough loss and the work we’ve done this season, I guess after last night I was ready to give up too.”
Pelinka and Ham declined to speculate as to whether James’ frustration stemmed from his ongoing foot injury, which could potentially require surgery to fully resolve. He missed a month of the regular season but returned to his usual heavy workload ahead of the playoffs.
James was largely healthy throughout his NBA career until his mid-30s in Los Angeles, where he missed significant performances in four of his five seasons.
“When there is an injury you get several medical opinions and some doubted that he would be able to play again this season,” said Pelinka. “To have him play practically 48 minutes at the end of the season and score a 40-point virtual triple-double as a player in his 20th year in the NBA is breathtaking.”
The Lakers all said they understood why James would have doubts about his future after a stellar performance in the loss.
“I feel like it’s human nature to be his age and play at the level he’s playing at,” said Troy Brown Jr. “Personally, I feel like he’s born for his love to continue playing the game. But I don’t blame him at all.”
Pelinka said he hopes to retain much of the Lakers’ current core centered around James and Anthony Davis, calling roster continuity after several years of major annual changes a “high priority.” James is slated to make $46.9 million in the first season of his two-year, $97 million contract extension, but some of the key contributors in the playoffs are free agents.
“I think the concept proves that this was a really good team,” said Pelinka. “But we will not rest on our laurels. If there are opportunities to become even better, we are always looking for improvements. But we have a core that is extremely successful and that is a good place to start.”
Los Angeles was one of the best teams in the NBA after his trades closed and ended the regular season 18-8 even without James. The Lakers then put on an impressive run to the Conference Finals, defeating runner-up Memphis and defending champion Golden State, but ran out of steam against the strong Nuggets.
“We feel like we have special players in the dressing room who enjoy playing together,” Pelinka said. “We know there is still more growth and improvement in this group, especially when we host a training camp together.”
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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