Trailing 73-58 at halftime after LeBron James had a career-best 31 points in the first half, the Denver Nuggets were able to close the gap during the final two quarters of their fourth playoff game against the Lakers and eventually send LA home by snatching a 113-111 victory on the road. Though James, who finished with 40 points, had chances to win or tie the game for the Lakers in the final minute, the 4-0 series sweep by Denver almost seemed to be a foregone conclusion after Nikola Jokic cashed in a ridiculous 3-pointer that added three more points to his triple-double playoff masterpiece.
With the Nuggets heading to the franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals after completing the sweep of the Lakers (much to the league’s chagrin), James and his teammates head into the offseason with an uncertain future. The biggest question facing the team is what James, who is under contract for $46.9 million next season with the Lakers, will do.
Following his loss in Game 4, 38-year-old James expressed uncertainty about returning to the NBA for his 21st season playing professional basketball. “We’ll see what happens going forward,” James said in his postgame news conference. “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.”
Though that comment was a bit vague, James confirmed to ESPN he was definitely talking about retirement.
One of the members of James’s 2003 draft class, Carmelo Anthony, announced his retirement from the NBA hours before the Nuggets and Lakers tipped off, so it is possible that played into what James said following LA’s loss. James may have just been emotional, and it seems likely he will return to the Lakers in the hope of eventually fulfilling his previously stated goal of playing an NBA season alongside his son Bronny. The younger James will be a freshman at USC this fall and can’t join the NBA until the fall of 2024 at the earliest. Given that timeline, the elder James would have to play next season and the following year to cross professional paths with his son.
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According to The Athletic, he probably will. “For what it’s worth, sources close to James downplayed the notion that he would actually retire,” per the publication. “There was a working theory relating to his state of mind that makes a whole lot of sense, too, one involving the official retirement of his longtime friend and fellow future Hall of Famer, Carmelo Anthony, earlier in the day.”
A four-time champion with nothing left to prove, James is not the type to follow in Anthony’s winless footsteps. He may not win another ring, but he’ll be back.