The Los Angeles Lakers already had much to contemplate after the team's Western Conference Finals sweep (4-0) to the Denver Nuggets, but LeBron James hinting at retirement was an interesting curveball.
Few around the league expect him to shut it down with two years left on his contract at roughly $97.6 million, but James has the means to walk away from the game if so motivated.
"He'll suit up next year," one Western Conference executive said. "He just changed the conversation. Now we're not talking about a sweep; we're talking about LeBron and retirement. He loves to control the narrative." Other NBA sources suggested James was getting an early start on his leverage campaign on the Lakers' front office, attempting to influence GM Rob Pelinka to chase free agent Kyrie Irving, who is still expected by many to re-sign with the Dallas Mavericks.
Was it Machiavellian design, a man caught up in the moment's emotion or an earnest possibility that James might retire?
"Give it a week," another executive said. "Let's see if he's saying the same thing." But it's worth looking at one question closely; what happens to the Lakers if James retires this offseason?
Understanding NBA Retirement
Most players stop playing because teams move on, like Carmelo Anthony, who didn't pick up with another franchise after his 2021-22 season with the Lakers. His retirement announcement probably won't lead to signing retirement paperwork with the NBA/NBPA. There's no need.
But James is in a different situation entirely, signing a two-year max extension in August that projects to start at $46.9 million in July, assuming a $134 million salary cap. He also has an estimated $50.7 million player option for 2024-25.
If James decides it's over, the likely step would have L.A. putting James on the NBA's voluntary retired list. He would give up his salary and wouldn't be allowed to sign with another team for a year, should he later change his mind.