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After spending most of his NBA career exerting influence both with his play and his team’s roster construction, LeBron James coyly declined to address the central question that could define the end of his NBA career.

After the Lakers lost their first-round matchup in five games to the Denver Nuggets, has James considered he played his final game in a purple and gold uniform?

“I’m not going to answer that,” James told reporters before flashing a smile.

Undoubtedly, James sparked speculation once again on his uncertain future. Unlike during his time in Cleveland and Miami, however, James is not expected to leave the Lakers.

Below are the various possibilities.


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James Can Exercise His Player Option

By June 29, James will have to decide whether he will play out the final year of his $51.4 million contract for the 2023-24 season. That way, James can retain flexibility to account for how he fares in his 22nd NBA season and how he feels before and after he turns 40 on Dec. 30. James can also see how the Lakers manage their head-coaching search and fill out the rest of their roster without a firmer commitment.

The Lakers undoubtedly would love to hire Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, who coached James in Cleveland to three of his four NBA Finals appearances there and the 2016 NBA title. But the Clippers are expected to grant Lue a lucrative extension to tack on his existing one-year contract. The Lakers could either hire a proven head coach (Mike Budenholzer), a respected assistant coach (Golden State’s Kenny Atkinson) or a former NBA player that has hosted a podcast with James (J.J. Redick). The Lakers will consider among other options, too. As for their roster? The Lakers will have up to three draft picks available to trade on the day of the NBA Draft (June 27) before possibly drafting Bronny James with their second-round pick. The Lakers will also have 12 free agents, leaving plenty of roster space.

The Lakers and LeBron will be in win-now mode, but simply exercising a player option could signal that James wants to retire following the 2024-25 season. That would leave the Lakers with having to manage how to maximize James’ last chance to win a title while also preparing for his departure.


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James Can Sign A Multi-year Contract With The Lakers

By opting out of his player option, James technically would become a free agent. But that could also signal further commitment with the Lakers in hopes to sign a multi-year deal. The Lakers can offer James a three-year, $162 million contract, a lucrative contract that would seem difficult to turn down even with James as part of the billionaire club.

By accepting this deal, James could ensure relative longevity and security ahead of unknown challenges with how he confronts Father Time. This could set James up to finish his NBA career with the Lakers in two ways. If James continues to play at an elite level, he would have a chance to break more records and pursue more NBA titles with a franchise that will show aggressiveness with constructing a championship roster around him. If James experiences injuries and/or the Lakers’ supporting cast proves unreliable, James and the Lakers can at least enjoy the business aspects of his farewell tour.

So There Is No Chance James Would Go To Another Team?

Never say never. James became a key player in spawning the NBA’s new player empowerment movement. But it would take a lot for that to happen.

There isn’t an NBA team that has enough cap room to sign James outright unless he wants to sign at a steep discount. James’ most likely path would entail a sign-and-trade, a move the Lakers would likely show reluctance to do. If they went down that path, the Lakers would only do so if James directly asked for it. That scenario seems unlikely, too. Plus, it seems hard to imagine any team giving up a ton of assets that could include any combination of second-tier players, rotation players and draft picks just to land James for his 22nd NBA season.

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