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Why LeBron James’ retirement threat is a leverage play to get Kyrie Irving to Lakers

LeBron James is using his leverage to get what he wants from the Lakers by threatening retirement this summer.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron James doesn’t do anything on accident. After his Los Angeles Lakers were swept out of the Western Conference Finals on Monday with another loss to the Denver Nuggets, James dropped some cryptic comments about his future in basketball. When reporters followed up with James later in the night, he confirmed he’s thinking about retirement.

“Retirement is under consideration,” for James, according to a report from Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report. Haynes adds that LeBron is “uncertain if he’ll be with (the Lakers) when the 2023-24 NBA season starts.”

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin talked to LeBron after the game, and asked him to clarify his press conference comments, when James said “Just personally, with me moving forward with the game of basketball, I got a lot to think about.” James confirmed that he’s considering retirement this offseason. Here’s what he told McMenamin:

Following the news conference, ESPN asked James to elaborate on his statement.

When you say you got to think about stuff, what thread should we be pulling on that?

“If I want to continue to play,” James said.

As in next year?


You would walk away?

“I got to think about it.”

This is the first time James has ever said he’s thinking about retirement publicly. It wouldn’t be such a shocking admission with anyone else with the type of mileage LeBron is carrying at the moment. The superstar forward just wrapped up season No. 20, and will turn 39 years old midway through next season. He’s played more than 65K minutes between the regular season and the playoffs, the second-most all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He famously passed Abdul-Jabbar to become the league’s all-time leading scorer this season.

James is no longer the best player in the NBA as he was for years. That title now unofficially belongs to the man who swept him out of the playoffs, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. James has clearly lost a step athletically in his old age, but he can still be pretty damn good. He scored 40 points on 15-of-25 shooting in Game 4 against Denver. He was named Third-Team All-NBA this season.

James has also publicly said many times that he hopes to one day play with his son, Bronny, who will be a highly-touted freshman at USC next season. Bronny James could enter the 2024 NBA Draft. Would LeBron really walk away now with his dream of playing with his son potentially only one more season away?

LeBron James is threatening retirement to put pressure on the Lakers

James is better than anyone in NBA history when it comes to using leverage to get what they want from their team. Back in the day, James would sign 1+1 deals with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lakers to make sure his teams wouldn’t get complacent in the offseason.

James can’t walk away as a free agent this summer because he has two years, $97 million remaining on his contract. The second year of that is a player option, which would line up with when Bronny would enter the NBA. Again, James doesn’t do anything on accident.

James knows he needs more help if he’s ever going to win his fifth championship. The Lakers were only the No. 7 seed in the West this season. LA turned around its season with a fantastic trade deadline haul to remake the rotation, and they won two series in the playoffs because of it. That’s great, but James is only playing for championships at this point in his career.

Who could the Lakers add this offseason? Well, there is one big man free agent available who happens to have a close relationship with James. He was in attendance at Game 4.

LeBron is going to want Kyrie Irving on the Lakers next season. Of course, the Dallas Mavericks — who just cashed in a lot of assets to acquire Irving at the trade deadline — also want to sign him. The Lakers can’t really create enough salary cap space to give Irving a max contract in free agency, but they can come close. More than likely, Irving would have to force the Mavs to make a sign-and-trade to LA.

This is all speculation, of course, but it seems like safe speculation. LeBron still wants to play with Bronny, as he’s said many times. LeBron was public about the fact that he was hoping the Lakers would land Kyrie during the trade deadline. He’s going to want Irving again, and he’s using the threat of retirement make the Lakers’ front office put every future draft pick on the table if it helps them get it done.

At first, it was shocking to see LeBron admit he was considering retirement. Dig deeper, and this just feels like an extension of what he’s been doing his entire career.