What should LeBron James, Lakers do next after first-round exit?

LeBron James’ NBA future is as uncertain as ever entering the 2024 season. 

The NBA’s all-time scoring leader declined to comment about his future following the Los Angeles Lakers’ Game 5 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday, which ended their season in the first round.

“I don’t have an answer … to be honest. I haven’t given it much thought,” James told reporters when asked how he would handle his decision about playing in the 2024-25 season. James added that he’ll have to discuss with his agent Rich Paul and his family what’s best for him moving forward. Then he was asked if he had played his final game as a member of the Lakers.

“I’m not going to answer that,” James said, ending his press conference on Monday after that question.

The 39-year-old James has a $51.4 million player option for next season which he’ll have to make a decision on by June 29. That’s part of the reason why it isn’t a guarantee James will be back with the Lakers next season. He also contemplated retirement last offseason, and his eldest son, Bronny, has declared for the NBA Draft. LeBron has said in the past that playing with Bronny is one of the last things he wants to accomplish in his playing career.

James’ comment following Monday’s season-ending loss left FOX Sports’ Keyshawn Johnson a little worried for the Lakers, asking at the start to not “have us twiddling our thumbs” to find out what he wants to do. However, Johnson also believes the Lakers should be cautious in how they approach the situation with James this offseason, believing they have to “look at the big picture” before making him a three-year, $164 million max offer.

“They’ve also got to look at where LeBron’s at in his career; 21 seasons going on 22 to tie Vince Carter for the most seasons played in the NBA,” Johnson said on Tuesday’s “Undisputed.” “Do you want to commit the type of dollars to someone who, I don’t want to call him an aging star because he’s still a superstar, but is getting older and there’s a risk he can slow down?”

Johnson added that if the Lakers bring James back, they’ll likely be starting “all over again,” as reports suggest Darvin Ham will be ousted as their head coach. 

Lakers eliminated from NBA Playoffs by Nuggets in Game 5

Lakers eliminated from NBA Playoffs by Nuggets in Game 5

Still, Johnson would still like to see James and Anthony Davis remain in Tinseltown. Paul Pierce thinks that will be the case. 

“He’ll be back,” Pierce said. “If the Lakers are smart, they’ll give him a new three-year deal. He’s still playing at a high level. His family uprooted here. His businesses are here. Will he entertain going somewhere else? I don’t think so. If he goes to, let’s say, Golden State or Cleveland, I just think that would be a little smear on his legacy if he tried to form another super-team and teamed up with Steph Curry or brought Kevin Durant over here.”

Skip Bayless agreed with Pierce, saying it’s “much ado about nothing” due to the James family embracing Los Angeles as their home since he signed with the team in 2018. He also believes the Lakers will do their part to make sure that James doesn’t leave Los Angeles this summer. 

“His son is going to be a Laker,” Bayless said. “I’ll bet you on it because Klutch (the agency that represents James) will make it happen. Klutch will send out the message, ‘Don’t draft this kid because he’s going to be a Laker.’ I don’t think the Lakers are going to have to even spend a draft pick or Bronny.”

The Lakers seem to be willing to grant James that opportunity. They’re open to offering a deal, including the max offer, to bring James back and drafting his son, The Athletic reported. After James had another All-Star season averaging 25.7 points per game, Bayless believes that James has “earned that right” to receive a max contract offer and for the Lakers to give him the opportunity to play with his son. 

“He’s earned that money because he’s not only the face of this franchise, but he’s still the face of this league,” Bayless said. “Did you see any drop-off in his game? I saw none. Can he lift like he used to? No, he can’t. But is he at least as effective as he used to be? Sure, he is. Do you think he can do it again next year or there’s a danger that he’ll hit the wall next year? I don’t think so. He’s too smart about what to do in the offseason with his body.”

LeBron refuses to address Lakers future: Where will King James play next season?

LeBron refuses to address Lakers future: Where will King James play next season?

If those shoes drop for the Lakers, Pierce has an ideal trade target for them this offseason.

“Donovan Mitchell would be the perfect fit,” Pierce said. “He’s not looking for an extension with Cleveland. With the way this series is going against Orlando and they lose in the first round, they’ll trade him because he’s not going to sign an extension.  

“Now, you have a young Donovan Mitchell you can play with Anthony Davis, who needs to be a No. 2. He’s clearly a No. 2 on a championship team. Mitchell would take so much pressure off of LeBron if you give him three years. Now, you’re window is back open.”

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