After the Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated at the hands of the eventual NBA champion Denver Nuggets almost two months ago, LeBron James hinted that his time playing professional basketball may have come to its end.
Not many believed James at the time, especially when considering that he has been highly vocal about his desire to play alongside his eldest son Bronny who will become eligible for the NBA Draft in 2024. Add this to the fact that the two-year, $97 million contract extension that he signed last September has yet to even begin, further driving doubts about his potential retirement.
The 38-year-old James finally put all of the speculation about his future to rest at no less than the 2023 ESPY Awards.
James was awarded the Best Record-Breaking Performance award for becoming the NBA’s all-time regular season scoring leader last February. During his acceptance speech, he announced that he is not yet ready to walk away from basketball, saying that “I still got something left”.
The performance of the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player during this past campaign more than backs his statement at the ESPYs and suggests that his tank is still far from empty. James averaged an impressive 28.9 points, 2.2 three-pointers, 8.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.6 blocks in 55 regular season games last season. What makes these numbers even more impressive are that his scoring, three-pointer, and rebound averages all exceeded his career norms.
Beyond his ability to still put up strong numbers, James’ desire to continue playing is, more likely than not, driven largely by his quest to win a fifth NBA title. He applauded Los Angeles’ moves in free agency earlier this month and the potential of their roster to win a championship is likely to have played into his decision.
The Lakers’ biggest win of the off-season so far was that they managed to keep last postseason’s breakout star and restricted free agent Austin Reaves. The team signed the 25-year-old guard to a team-friendly four-year, $53.8 million contract that will help them keep some flexibility for more moves in the future.
Aside from Reaves, Los Angeles also re-signed Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell who both played important roles for the team at one point or another during their late season push.
In addition, general manager Rob Pelinka brought in Gabe Vincent to replace Dennis Schroder as their back-up point guard. The perimeter shooting and defense that the undrafted Vincent showed during his time with the Miami Heat suggests that he will be a much better fit than Schroder as a complementary player on this Laker team.
Los Angeles brought in Taurean Prince and Cam Reddish as well to bolster their wing defense while the addition of center Jaxson Hayes is a low-risk gamble on the eighth pick of the 2019 NBA Draft that could pay off handsomely.
With all things considered, these moves should allow James and the Lakers to have, at the very least, a puncher’s chance to win the NBA title.
James is returning for Year 21, but this is by no means a farewell tour or a case of a star holding on for too long. This man means business and is gunning for nothing less than the NBA title. If he can pull off this feat and actually win the NBA title next year at the age of 39, it will only build the case for him as the greatest player to ever grace the NBA.