Let’s be honest about a few details beforehand: No, it’s not likely that LeBron James will retire, although his comments after the Los Angeles Lakers’ final game of the season did raise some eyebrows. It’s relatively normal for an aging elite athlete to say what LeBron said – “I have a lot to think about” – after a tough season is over.
Reading between the lines, LeBron’s full statement seems like an indirect but very obvious way to put pressure on Rob Pelinka to upgrade the roster. LeBron will need to win one more NBA championship before finally retiring. Pelinka can’t look at LeBron’s comments and not realize what’s at stake. LeBron doesn’t play basketball to make it to the conference finals; he plays to win trophies. If this is worth his time and effort, Pelinka better deliver the goods. That much seems clear from LeBron’s perspective. He’s not retiring.
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However, LeBron’s comments could point to something that would affect USC and Andy Enfield: LeBron could speed up the timeline of Bronny James heading to the NBA, a natural point of interest (and speculation) for anyone following USC hoops. Let’s take a look at the dimensions of this situation:
LeBron James has made it no secret that he wants to play in the NBA with Bronny. Even if LeBron doesn’t retire, his comments clearly show a sense of urgency about the next decisions he’ll make and how he’s shaping what’s left of his NBA career. He might be concerned about his health. He could (and probably will) put pressure on Laker management to give him better players. But part of the subtext here is that if you have to guess how many years LeBron will continue to play, now the odds are higher that the number – whatever it may have been a day, week, month or year ago – is lower. If LeBron had thought he had four good years left on his way to these playoffs, that number could be three by now. If before there were three, now that number may be two.
If LeBron puts pressure on Rob Pelinka and the Laker front office, we can reasonably conclude that LeBron wants the Lakers to have a championship roster next season so he can go after a title one last time and then – in the 2024-2025 period to go. season – enjoy a farewell tour with Bronny, then hang up his sneakers. If that’s LeBron’s plan, it would certainly point to Bronny only having one season at USC.
There has been much speculation that LeBron James’s health was more limited than he has publicly admitted in recent months. This could indicate that LeBron will sit out a season – not retire – and then come back the next season. If that’s LeBron’s internal calculation, it opens the door for LeBron to play two more seasons, through 2025-26. In this scenario, Bronny could play two seasons at USC and play a split season with his father in three years.
We’ve touched on this point before, but LeBron’s comments provide reason to revisit the subject: If Bronny is an expected late first round or early second round pick for the 2024 NBA draft, is that enough for him to leave? or does he (and/or his father) want a lottery selection or at least a top 20 selection? Do LeBron’s post-season comments from the Lakers change that calculus in any way? We don’t know, but it’s another plot point to speculate on as LeBron and the Lakers are heading into a very interesting and uncertain off-season.