Lakers GM and coach address LeBron James’ talk of retirement without a sense of panic

EL SEGUNDO – There will be no pleading, no cajoling and no arm-twisting.

The Los Angeles Lakers instead will provide support to LeBron James as the 38-year-old NBA superstar decides whether to return for next season, according to Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka and head coach Darvin Ham.

“Obviously our hope would be that his career continues,” said Pelinka, who also serves as the Lakers general manager. “But we want to again give him the time to have that inflection point and support him along the way in everything he does.”

Ham also addressed the situation during a joint press conference with Pelinka on Tuesday, the morning after the Denver Nuggets completed a four-game sweep of the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

“Coming off a tough loss like that after the work we’ve put in this season, I think I was ready to retire after last night, too,” Ham said, drawing laughter from the media. “But in all honestly and seriousness, LeBron has earned the right to do whatever he wants to do, make whatever choice.”

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Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham talks with forward LeBron James during a game this season.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham talks with forward LeBron James during a game this season.

As previously scheduled, Pelinka and Ham met with the media at the team’s training facility for an end-of-the-season assessment. But what the duo apparently did not anticipate until late Monday night was they’d be fielding questions about James’ future.

After the game, a 113-111 loss to the Nuggets during which James had a brilliant performance – 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists – he hinted at retirement during a press conference. Later he told ESPN he would consider walking away before next season, which would be the 21st of his NBA career.

“I got to think about it,” he told ESPN.

During the 20th season of his NBA career, James became the league’s all-time leading scorer, battled a foot injury and helped turn around the team’s season after a 2-10 start. But he looked fatigued Monday night after playing all but four seconds of the final game of the season.

“Coach and I will speak to LeBron in the coming days,” Pelinka said. “We all know he speaks for himself and we’ll look forward to those conversations with him when the time is right.

“But I will say this, LeBron has given as much to the game of basketball as anyone who’s ever played. And when you do that, you earn the right to decide whether you’re going to get more.”

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Moving forward, Pelinka said, a priority will be to retain the Lakers’ core of young players. He mentioned guard Austin Reaves and two of the team’s midseason acquisitions – forward Rui Hachimura and guard D’Angelo Russell.

But he also said the Lakers are open to upgrading their roster through free agency, trades and the 2023 NBA draft June 22. The Lakers have the 17th and 47th picks.

With the goal of winning the franchise’s 18th title, Pelinka said he also feels good about James and Davis serving as the team’s pillars. During the duo’s four seasons together with the Lakers, the team has made the playoffs three times, won a championship and now reached the Western Conference finals.

“That’s firmly where we’re supposed to be,” Pelinka said.

But on Monday night, James made it clear reaching the Western Conference finals is not enough.

“I don’t like to say it’s a successful year because I don’t play for anything besides winning championships at this point in my career,” said James, who has four NBA championship rings. “You know, 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.”

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Pelinka was asked if he thinks the roster as it stands has what it takes to win a championship.

“We were on the doorstep of potentially the NBA Finals, and in the NBA Finals anything can happen,” he said. “So I think there’s proof in concept that this was a really good team. But again, we’re not going to rest on our laurels if there’s opportunities to get even better.”

Of course, there’s also the possibility of getting worse, with the potential exit of James.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LeBron James’ Lakers future was on the minds of team brass

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