LeBron James Content Being a Laker, but Uncertain What Future Holds

LeBron James Content Being a Laker, but Uncertain What Future Holds
LeBron James (23) of the Los Angeles Lakers is guarded by Stephen Curry (30) of the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center in San Francisco on Jan. 27, 2024.(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Dan Wood

One thing that has become abundantly clear about Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, aside from his still-otherworldly basketball abilities, is that he thrives on being in the spotlight.

Whether it is on the court or off, as was the case during media availability before the Feb. 18 NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis, James is eminently comfortable being the center of attention. And why wouldn’t he be, given that he has been a national phenomenon since his days at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio more than two decades ago?

Throw in a little mystery and intrigue, and James is completely in his element.

From the time he parlayed his first crack at NBA free agency into “The Decision,” the nationally televised announcement when he “took his talents” from Cleveland to Miami in 2010, fans and media alike have been fascinated by the man’s potential future.

And so it was when James addressed matters, in a manner of speaking, prior to his NBA-record 20th NBA All-Star Game appearance.

“I am a Laker, and I’m happy and have been very happy being a Laker the last six years. Hopefully it stays that way,” James said. “But I don’t have the answer to how long it is, or which uniform I’ll be in—hopefully with the Lakers. It’s a great organization, but we’ll see.”

At 39, James has long since surpassed the age by which most NBA players have retired. He has, of course, never been most NBA players, having broken the league’s career scoring record formerly held by ex-Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar just more than a year ago.

Already the top-earning player in league history, reportedly with career income of nearly $529 million, James could once again become a free agent after this season by declining a $51 million-plus player option in the two-year, $97.1 million deal he signed with the Lakers in 2022.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, covers Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard  during a game in Los Angeles on Jan. 7, 2024. (Eric Thayer/AP Photo)
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, covers Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard  during a game in Los Angeles on Jan. 7, 2024. (Eric Thayer/AP Photo)

It was James himself who fanned the fire of recent conjecture late last month with a cryptic social-media post that featured an hourglass emoji and expressed uncertainty about resolving the player option in his contract.

He didn’t exactly clarify things in Indianapolis, where he arrived late and departed early, ostensibly due to receiving treatment for a left-ankle injury that caused him to miss the Lakers’ most recent game, a 138–122 victory Feb. 14 at Utah.

“I have not mapped out how many seasons I have left. I know it’s not that many,” said James, who next season would tie Vince Carter’s record of having appeared in 22 NBA campaigns.

Certainly, if James were to become available this summer, there would be no shortage of teams interested in landing him. At 6-foot-9, 250-pound he is 18th in the league in scoring at 24.8 points per game, not that far off his career average of 27.1.

He’s averaging 7.2 rebounds per game, compared to 7.5 for his career, and is ahead of his career pace in assists (7.8 per game compared to 7.3) and field goal percentage (52 percent to 50.5). His average minutes per game are down, but not by a great margin, from 38.0 to 34.9.

The Golden State Warriors, in fact, reportedly approached the Lakers and James’ representatives earlier this month about the possibility of trading for the four-time most valuable player.

“I actually heard about it when everybody else heard about it,” James said on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” show ahead of the All-Star Game. “Sometimes there are conversations that happen behind closed doors that you don’t even know about. And I guess until it’s real or not, then they’ll bring it to you. But it never even got to me.”

For everything he has already accomplished, which includes winning two NBA championships with the Miami Heat and one each with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lakers, there is no question that James retains concrete goals.

A three-time Olympian and two-time gold medalist, he has committed to playing for Team USA in this summer’s Games in Paris. He has often expressed the desire to eventually partner in the NBA with his son, Bronny, who is a freshman at the University of Southern California. And, more pressing, he wants to help the Lakers back to the playoffs.

Even with six victories in their past seven games, the Lakers are in a precarious position, currently ninth in the Western Conference at 30-26. The top six teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs, with the next four clubs competing in a “play-in” to determine the final two spots.

“We’re trending in the right direction,” James said.

Having played only 14 minutes in the All-Star Game, James acknowledged there is some uncertainty regarding his status for the Lakers’ next game, Feb. 22 against the Warriors in San Francisco. And the grind will be immediate, what with a home date against the San Antonio Spurs the next night and a matinee at Phoenix two days after that.

“The most important thing for me is definitely my health, where I am right now, where our team is leaning,” James said. “Obviously, it’s been about health all year, trying to do what’s best for me, for the betterment of the team. This last part of the season is very important for us.”

Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.
Related Topics