LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers hope LeBron James will decide to continue his career after he recovers from the difficult end to their season.
James didn’t meet with the media on the day after the top scorer in NBA history said he needed time to think about his basketball future following the Lakers’ elimination from the Western Conference finals.
The 38-year-old James has skipped his team’s postseason media exit interviews before, but his decision Tuesday left Lakers fans hanging about his intentions with his enigmatic comments following a four-game sweep by the Denver Nuggets.
General manager Rob Pelinka and coach Darvin Ham said they’ll speak with James soon about his future.
“We all know that (James) speaks for himself, and we’ll look forward to those conversations when the time is right,” Pelinka said. “LeBron has given as much to the game of basketball as anyone who has ever played. When you do that, you earn a right to decide whether you’re going to give more. … 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.”
Despite James’ 40-point performance, including a career playoff-best 31 points in the first half, the seventh-seeded Lakers were swept by the top-seeded Nuggets with a 113-111 defeat in Game 4 on Monday night, ending James’ attempt to win his fifth career championship in his 20th NBA season.
Ham joked: “Coming off a tough loss like that, the work we’ve put in this season, I think I was ready to retire after last night, too.”
Pelinka and Ham declined to speculate on whether James’ frustration stemmed from his persistent foot injury, which could conceivably require surgery to correct fully. He missed a month of the regular season down the stretch, but returned to his usual heavy workload before the playoffs.
James had been largely healthy throughout his NBA career until he reached his mid-30s in Los Angeles, where he has missed significant chunks in four of his five seasons.
“When there’s any injury, you seek multiple medical opinions, and there were some that doubted whether he could play again this season,” Pelinka said. “For him to end the season playing virtually 48 minutes and posting a virtual 40-point triple-double as a player in the 20th year of his NBA career is staggering.”
The Lakers all said they understood why James would question his future after an outstanding performance in defeat.
“I feel like that’s human nature, to be his age and be playing at the level he’s playing at,” Troy Brown Jr. said. “Personally, I feel like because of his love of the game, he will continue to play. But I don’t blame him at all.”
Pelinka said he hopes to keep much of the Lakers’ current core around James and Anthony Davis, calling roster continuity “a high priority” after several years of major annual changes. James is due to make $46.9 million in the first season of his two-year, $97 million contract extension, but several key contributors to the playoff run are free agents.
“I think there’s proof in concept that this was a really good team,” Pelinka said. “But we’re not going to rest on our laurels. If there’s opportunities to get even better, we’re always looking to improve. But we have a core that’s highly successful, and that’s a good starting point.”
Los Angeles was one of the NBA’s best teams after its moves at the trade deadline, going 18-8 to end the regular season even without James. The Lakers then made an impressive run to the conference finals, knocking off second-seeded Memphis and defending champion Golden State, but ran out of steam against the powerhouse Nuggets.
“We feel like we’ve got special players in the locker room that enjoy playing with each other,” Pelinka said. “We know there’s more growth and improvement in that group, especially if we get a training camp together.”
REAVES AND RUI
Pelinka made it clear he intends to do everything possible to re-sign Austin Reaves. The undrafted second-year pro is a restricted free agent after seizing a starting job and effectively becoming the Lakers’ No. 3 offensive option.
“I want to be here. It feels like home to me, in a sense,” Reaves said. “Obviously it’s a lot different than my actual home (in Arkansas). It’s a little bigger. Traffic is a little worse. … But it feels like a home for me, the way the fans support me, the players, the coaching staff, front office. It’s just definitely somewhere I want to be, but we’ll see what happens.”
Rui Hachimura also is a restricted free agent, and Pelinka said the Lakers hope to keep him as well.
Hachimura said his short tenure with the Lakers was “a crazy three months for me. It was one of the best times of my life.”
The Lakers’ most prominent unrestricted free agent is D’Angelo Russell, who had several outstanding performances after his trade-deadline return to Los Angeles, but struggled badly enough in the playoffs to lose his starting job in the finale.
Russell, who scored only 25 points in the four conference finals games, called the season “a complete success.”
“We’ll see what opportunity presents itself, and obviously I’ll do the best for myself,” Russell said. “I think the future is bright. I think Rob Pelinka has some decisions to make, but that’s his job. (I) would love to be here and contribute to that, so we’ll see.”
Image credits: AP