In a Tuesday article, Bleacher Report Senior NBA Insider Chris Haynes wrote Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James was uncertain if he’ll be with the team when the 2023-24 NBA season starts and retirement was under consideration.
“Lakers star LeBron James is uncertain if he’ll be with the team when the 2023-24 NBA season starts in the fall, and retirement is under consideration, league sources tell Bleacher Report, TNT,” wrote Haynes.
ESPN Staff Writer Dave McMenamin wrote a source close to James told ESPN he believes the 38-year-old forward “will indeed be back” for his 21st season and fulfill his contract in a Friday article.
“Beyond James’ retirement decision — which could be a nonissue, with a source close to James telling ESPN on Thursday that he believes the Lakers star will indeed be back for season No. 21 and fulfill his contract — the biggest question facing the Lakers this offseason is figuring out what to do at point guard,” McMenamin wrote on Friday.
Still, it brings up an interesting question.
Cleveland.com Cavs reporter Chris Fedor answered a question of if there was any possibility of LeBron James finishing his career with the Cavs in a Wednesday edition of “Hey, Chris!”
LeBron James already showed the second time was the charm when he and the Cavaliers pushed back from a 3-1 deficit to bring the Larry O’Brien trophy to The Land for the first time in its history. It was in the second year of his second stint with Cleveland, one that ended with four-straight trips to the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
What can a potential third run with his (near) hometown team bring?
Should a member of the old guard that helped guide the Cavaliers to an unforgettable run to the NBA mountaintop return once more? And how would James fit with a Cavaliers roster in search of its first extended playoff run since before he departed Cleveland for the second time in his NBA career?
Should LeBron James end his career in Cleveland?
LeBron James’s legacy with the league would only be amplified if it ended right where it began.
Where a 22-year-old James helped guide the Cavaliers to a spot in the NBA Finals in 2007. Where he saw Cleveland rise from a 35-win team during his rookie year to a 66-win squad in 2009, the same year Cleveland State earned a triumphant victory over Wake Forest in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship and the Cleveland Browns pulled off a stunning 13-6 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers after they entered the game with a 1-11 record.
And where he pulled off a nearly-impossible feat, one that was aided by a former No. 1 pick for the Cavaliers in guard Kyrie Irving and a player who cemented his place in Cleveland history in forward Kevin Love, that broke the city’s championship drought of about 52 years with an NBA Finals win in 2016.
The Cavaliers have seen a monumental amount of growth since James first took his talents to Venice Beach in 2018.
Four head coaches have cycled through Cleveland since the team first ended with 19 wins during the 2018-19 season. It rounded out its young core of players with a multitude of lottery picks, including now-Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton in a talented 2018 NBA draft class. It clawed its way from one of the worst-rated teams on defense to one of the top defensive ratings in the league during the regular season.
And the Cavaliers made their first run at the NBA Playoffs in six years after making a blockbuster trade for Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell in September.
James had high praise for the Cavs after they defeated the Lakers in a 114-100 win over Los Angeles at Crypto.com Arena. Mitchell scored 33 points despite hitting just one of his seven 3-point attempts that night, taking confident drives to the interior as he helped cap off an 8-game win streak at the start the season.
“You don’t see too many of their guys showing off on social media,” James said in a November press conference. “They seem like a bunch of guys who come to work and just want to play ball.
“It’s definitely a joy for a coach and a staff like that. You have kids who want to come in and play ball and a grandpa who looks over everyone in (forward) Kevin Love.”
Beyond potentially having a storybook ending with the team where he started his legendary career, James could still be an impactful part of a Cleveland roster looking to make its first extended playoff run since 2018.
Cleveland still has plenty of needs to address this off-season. They have to find at least one backup big who can become a reliable role player. They need sharpshooters off the bench who can make long-range shots when the Cavs need them the most. And they need veteran players who can provide reliable minutes in the playoffs and help mentor a young group of Cavaliers starters.
LeBron James, a 19-time All-Star for three franchises, averaged 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists per contest in his fifth season with Los Angeles and his 20th in the NBA. He helped lead the Lakers to a spot in the Western Conference Finals after the team started the season with a record of 2-10.
The 6-foot-9-inch forward could provide a stopgap option as a small forward if he does become available for the Cavaliers. The need for a solidified starter at the three made itself apparent in the playoffs as Cleveland switched between forward Isaac Okoro and guard Caris LeVert.
But, as always, everything comes at a price.
And, if it can happen, it could mean paying a lofty one to see James play in a Cavaliers uniform for one final run.
James’s contract is estimated to have a $46.9 million cap hit during the 2023-24 season, according to Spotrac. He has a $50.65 million player option for the 2024-25 season, and could become an unrestricted free agent by 2025. The Cavaliers already have Mitchell, guard Darius Garland and center Jarrett Allen locked down for the 2024-25 season, with the three combining to have a $91.6 million cap hit that year. That figure includes an estimated amount for Garland.
LeBron James will be 41 by 2025. He will have finished his 22nd season in the NBA after his 2024-25 campaign. Even before that, he would have to decline his player option for the 2024-25 season and find a reason to play for the Cavs during the remaining years of his NBA career.
Should fortune have it, James’s son, Bronny, could find himself in a Cavaliers uniform.
“I can’t help but think that the Cleveland Cavaliers have a first-round pick when Bronny is eligible and just be a perfect storm where he could go back home, play with his son where he grew up,” former NBA forward Chandler Parsons said, via FanDuel. “That would probably be the biggest accomplishment LeBron has ever done, which is saying a lot because the guy has seen it all and done it all.
“I will say, at first, I was rolling my eyes about the whole Bronny James thing, but the kid can play. He’s athletic, and he’s only going to get better, so I do think that he will be a prospect. I do also think that if LeBron continues to play the way he is playing, which I don’t see him slowing down anytime, a team will take a flier on Bronny just to get the opportunity to grab LeBron for multiple reasons, for his game, and for everything that comes with it like jersey sales, attendance, and people coming to the games.”
Bronny was selected with the No. 24 pick in a “way-too-early” look at some of the top players of the 2024 NBA Draft class and first-round predictions by Yahoo! Sports NBA Draft Analyst Krysten Peek in April. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony had him as a Top-10 pick in a February 2024 NBA mock draft.
Whether James should play out his last year in Cleveland depends on how much the Cavaliers would have to pay to bring him back. And if it would be worth paying to see the former Cavs superstar play alongside the team’s younger options.
Cleveland could have performed better in the playoffs against the New York Knicks. But the Cavs still have plenty of time for internal growth and to address at least some of their most glaring needs in the offseason even before James’s player option year. Garland is still 23 years old. Mitchell is still 26. Forward Evan Mobley will turn 22 on June 18.
Still, it would be special to see LeBron James return to The Land for one last time before his number is likely hung from the rafters of Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
Only time will tell what happens between now and the near future.
All we can do is wait.