LeBron James hints at retirement, a reality that shouldn't surprise … – USA TODAY

LeBron James could not beat the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals but managed to wrestle away most of the attention from their 4-0 sweep when he suggested that returning for a 21st NBA season was no sure thing
“We’ll see what happens going forward. I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to think about, to be honest, and just with me personally going forward with the game of basketball, I’ve got a lot to think about.”
This comment has caught a lot of fans off guard. That’s partly because of the assumption that James could continue to defy nature by his sheer will and partly because he has stated many times that he wants to play alongside his son Bronny before retirement. 
But it should not surprise anyone that James would seriously consider walking away now, at age 38, in a league where hardly any of his contemporaries are still hanging around.
LEBRON JAMES TALKS ABOUT RETIREMENT What NBA star has said about his future
MOVING FORWARD What’s next for Lakers, LeBron James after NBA playoff sweep by Nuggets
There’s no point in making predictions about what James is going to do. It’s his life, his career, his body that gets put through the wringer over the grind of an 82-game season. He’ll decide whatever he decides on his timetable.
If you can’t understand why he might have played his last NBA game, however, you’re not paying attention.
None of us can know what James’ body feels like after 1,700 NBA games of mileage or exactly what it takes at this stage for him to be ready to go perform the way he did on Monday when at times he still looked like the best player on the floor. But rest assured it gets less pleasant every year.
There have been numerous stories about James spending $1.5 million annually in an attempt to defy Father Time, encompassing everything from nutrition to massage, from hyperbaric chambers to cryotherapy. The discipline and meticulousness it takes to still be in NBA-level physical condition nearing age 40 is something most of us can’t imagine. 
And still, after all that effort just to stay on the court, James battled nagging injuries this season and was physically spent at the end of some of these games to the point where he looked old and mortal. 
As James has said repeatedly, he’s still willing to do what it takes if he can win championships. But if that window has closed in his mind, after everything he’s accomplished in the game, does he really want to put himself through the gauntlet for another year? 
Let’s hope he does. It would be understandable if he doesn’t. 
We see this situation a lot in tennis, where every great player has to decide at some point whether the effort and the constant training are worthwhile if they are no longer viable contenders to win the biggest prizes. 
There’s little doubt that if Serena Williams wanted to come back, she could get herself in playing shape relatively quickly, beat a bunch of players on the WTA Tour and maybe even make a Wimbledon quarterfinal on her experience and talent alone. 
But when you’ve won as much as she has, you don’t put your body through all of that just to hope for more quarterfinals or semifinals. The price is too high and the return is too low. As James said Monday night, “I don’t play for anything besides winning championships at this point in my career. I don’t get a kick out of making a conference (finals) appearance. I’ve done it – a lot, and it’s not fun to me to not be able to be a part of getting to the Finals.” 
The good thing about basketball, of course, is that it’s not an individual sport. LeBron doesn’t have to be peak LeBron for 82 games to meaningfully contribute to a team, and after a few weeks of reflection, he may well want to give it another go. 
But even James understands at this point he isn’t capable of carrying the Lakers to another title. He had some exceptional moments in these playoffs from the great close in Game 4 against the Grizzlies to the first half on Monday when he scored 31 points. 
By the second half, though, James was mostly standing around on offense trying to conserve energy, didn’t have the legs to make jump shots late and got stuffed on the final possession trying to get to the rim. 
That isn’t an indictment of James, who squeezed everything he could out of this team, but it does put some things in perspective. If that’s the reality for him at 38, what does 39 or 40 look like? And how much more can the Lakers add to make up for whatever another year takes away from him? 
That part isn’t going to be easy. As of now, the Lakers have James and Anthony Davis on huge salaries, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt on small salaries and a whole bunch of question marks about what to do with the rest of the roster. Even if they cleared enough salary cap to sign Kyrie Irving, for instance, does that get them where James wants to go? Is Davis a reliable enough co-star with his own injury history and the ups and downs we saw from him in the playoffs? 
Those have got to be the questions James will consider in the coming days. Maybe he was merely speaking out of emotion in the wake of a disappointing series, but it seemed pretty clear that he’s not going to do this all over again just to be out there.
So we need to wrap our minds around the idea that James may have played his last game. And even if he does come back, Monday was a stark reminder that the end is probably coming sooner than we previously thought. 
EYE ON THE FUTURE: Here are the best NBA player and team future bets


Leave a Comment