The Los Angeles Lakers 2022-23 season concluded with LeBron James using the (unrelated) final question of his postgame press conference to float retirement.

“We’ll see what happens going forward,” he said after being swept by the Denver Nuggets. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve got a lot to think about, to be honest. … Just for me personally going forward with the game of basketball, I’ve got a lot to think about.”

At exit interviews the following morning, Rob Pelinka and Darvin Ham said they would give the 38-year-old space to ponder his future.

“Coach and I will speak to LeBron in the coming days,” Pelinka said. “We all know he speaks for himself. And we look forward to those conversations when the time is right. I will say this: LeBron has given as much to the game of basketball as anyone who’s ever played. When you do that, you earn a right to decide whether you’re going to give more. Sometimes we put athletes, entertainers on a pedestal, but they’re humans. They have inflection points in their careers. Our job as a Lakers organization is to support any player on our team if they reach a career inflection point.”

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Later that week, ESPN's Dave McMenamin reported that LeBron would likely return for his 21st NBA season. (LeBron is owed $47.6 million in 2023-24 and has a $51.4 million player option for 2024-25. His son, Bronny, will hoop for USC next year and will be eligible for the 2024 NBA Draft.)

The Lakers proceeded into the offseason as if LeBron was coming back, despite no public assurances from arguably the greatest player ever. Yes, they actually used their first-round pick on a 20-year-old (Jalen Hood-Schifino) instead of trading for a veteran (as LeBron always prefers), but they also signed or re-signed a handful of key pieces in free agency — moves that seemingly earned his approval.

“It was also nice to just see him celebrate the roster, once we completed it,” Pelinka said at Summer League on Sunday. “A series of Instagram posts and different things, celebrating his teammates. And that’s just the leader LeBron is. He knows how to galvanize a group and bring them together and we’re just excited that he’s behind that.”

In the past, LeBron has been a proponent of star-chasing over patience. His stance seems to be different these days — perhaps due to his whiff on the Russell Westbrook trade combined with the potential of the post-trade-deadline Lakers, which LeBron admitted energized him enough to forego season-ending foot surgery.

On Wednesday, the King all but confirmed his return — the best-kept secret in basketball — during his ESPYs speech.

“I don’t care how many more points I score or what I can or cannot do on the floor,” LeBron said while accepting an award for eclipsing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time scoring leader. “The real question for me is, ‘Can I play without cheating this game?’ The day I can’t give this game everything on the floor is the day I’ll be done. Lucky for you guys, that day is not today.”


The Lakers may have privately known LeBron's intentions all along. If not, his Twitter fingers effectively gave away his hand. Plus, his agent, Rich Paul, revealed that LeBron texted him two weeks after the season ended with his mind focused on his NBA future.

Either way, now the team and their fanbase can, officially, take a breath and look forward to training camp knowing their center of gravity will be present.

Only two questions remain for the Lakers' offseason: What big man will get the 14th roster spot (and will it be LeBron's good pal Tristan Thompson)? And will the Lakers offer an extension to LeBron's running mate, Anthony Davis, on Aug. 4?