LeBron James is playing at an elite level that most 37-year-olds don’t get to enjoy while hooping. The King is hours away from turning 38 and is fully aware that he has more basketball behind him than ahead. The primary mission James has left is continuing “to win” and accomplishing the dream of playing in the NBA with his oldest son, Bronny.
After the Lakers’ 112-98 loss to his former team, the Miami Heat, the four-time MVP was asked to share how much longer he thinks he will play in the NBA. James led the Lakers in points (27), rebounds (nine), and assists (six) against the team that he played his best basketball for. The Lakeshow is reeling after making so much ground to get back to being a play-in tournament team.
“I don’t have a number,” James said, per ESPN. “I know as long as my mind stays in it, I can play at this level for a minute. Now, that’s up to my mind. My body is going to be OK because if my mind is into it, I will make sure my body is taken care of, and I’ll continue to put in the work.”
The absence of Anthony Davis (out for 7-10 days due to a foot injury) has contributed to the Lakers losing for the ninth time in their last 13 games. James and the Lakers (14-21) are in 13th place in the Western Conference, and it’s already been reported that the Lakers’ front office will likely stay put at the trade deadline due to concerns that making “win-now moves” could compound their past mistakes.
The Lakers’ fortunes will ultimately decide how much longer he stays in the purple-and-gold. He has two years and $97 million left on his current contract. Not to mention that he has a player option for that final year. The one thing that can alleviate Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss’ concerns that the King will leave them high and dry is getting back to playing winning basketball.
After all, winning is the true fountain of youth, and James ultimately identifies with the sentiment.
“I’m a winner, and I want to win,” James said. “And I want to win and give myself a chance to win and still compete for championships. That has always been my passion. That has always been my goal since I entered the League as an 18-year-old kid out of Akron, Ohio.
“And I know it takes steps to get there, but once you get there and know how to get there, playing basketball at this level just to be playing basketball is not in my DNA. It’s not in my DNA anymore. So we’ll see what happens and see how fresh my mind stays over the next couple years.”
James’ Lakers tenure has been highlighted by winning his fourth title in 2020 and becoming the first player in League history to win a Finals MVP with three teams. However, as a member of the purple-and-gold, the Lakers have also missed the playoff twice and lost in the first-round of the playoffs for the first time in 2021 after dragging the Lakers into the play-in tournament.
They’ve also been criticized for trading away the farm to acquire Davis and not trading Russell Westbrook last summer.
Front office exec Rob Pelinka declared at Laker’s media day that it would be his duty to field a competitive team around James. The four-time champ has been able to beat Father Time while averaging 27.8 points per game, good for ninth in the League. While his longevity and commitment to keeping his body at peak fitness are legendary, it’s only a matter of time before James’ game starts to decline.
So the matter of building a team that can defend and shoot the ball competently is of the utmost importance. The other vital step in keeping James will be convincing Lakers leadership that it’s better to build a championship culture, and team will create better results instead of trying to buy one and selling the farm for All-Star talent.
“Let me be abundantly clear: We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract. So, of course, we will do everything we can, picks included, to make deals to give us a chance to help LeBron get to the end,” Pelinka said. “He committed to our organization. That’s got to be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”
The Lakers can get back on track with a road win against the Atlanta Hawks (17-18) on Friday.
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