Two days shy of his 38th birthday, LeBron James no longer has the time nor the inclination to ball out for a losing team such as the Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron made that crystal clear during his postgame remarks following the Lakers' 112-98 loss to the Miami Heat — the team's fifth L in seven games.
“I have multiple thoughts,” he said about the state of the Lakers 37 games into the 20th season of his NBA career. “I think about the day-to-day of how we get better throughout the course of the season. But how we get better from game to game,” he said. “I think about how much longer I’m going to play the game. I think about that I don’t want to finish my career playing at this level from a team aspect. I’ll still be able to compete for championships because I know what I can still bring to any ball club with the right pieces.”
LeBron even used the prospect of retirement as a veiled threat.
“I don't have a number,” LeBron said when asked about how much longer he'll play. “I know as long as my mind stays in it, I can play at this level for a minute. Now, that's up to my mind. My body is going to be OK because if my mind is into it, I will make sure my body is taken care of and I'll continue to put in the work.
“I'm a winner and I want to win. And I want to win and give myself a chance to win and still compete for championships. That's always been my passion. That has always been my goal since I entered the league as an 18-year-old kid out of Akron, Ohio. And I know it takes steps to get there. But once you get there and know how to get there, playing basketball at this level just to be playing basketball is not in my DNA. It's not in my DNA anymore.
“So, we'll see what happens and see how fresh my mind stays over the next couple years.”
LeBron — averaging 27.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 6.6 assists on 49.8% shooting in nearly 36 minutes — has often used the postgame podium to pressure the Lakers into making win-now upgrades over the past calendar year, to no avail (James deserves flak for co-signing the Russell Westbrook trade).
Last February, LeBron admitted the Lakers were nowhere near contender status days before spending All-Star weekend waxing poetic about a return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and praising various general managers not named Rob Pelinka. A week prior, he and Anthony Davis were displeased about the Lakers' inactivity at the trade deadline.
After the first game of the 2022-23 season, LeBron called out the lack of shooting on the Lakers' roster. On Christmas, he questioned if they had the wherewithal to fight back into the playoff race.
At media day, Pelinka made “abundantly clear” how LeBron's decision to sign a two-year extension in August (he can't be traded until the offseason, BTW) would inspire the front office to seek upgrades that could enable the four-time MVP to play meaningful basketball in his twilight seasons. 3+ months later, the Lakers have made zero trades and sit in the No. 13 spot in the Western Conference standings.
The more the Lakers stumble without Davis (out at least another few weeks), the less inclined management will be to surrender precious future picks for immediate help before the Feb. 9 deadline. But if the Lakers stay inert, LeBron may become more inclined to seek greener pastures next summer. An unenviable Catch-22.