LeBron James after Lakers’ fifth loss in six games: ‘I don’t want to finish my career playing at this level’

Playing the Miami Heat in the second game of a straight road isn’t a fun time for any team, but the experience was particularly tough for the under-manned Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. The Lakers turned over 26 times and fell behind as many as 22 en route to a 112-98 loss, their fifth in their last six games.

LeBron James had six of those turnovers but otherwise did as much as he could, finishing the game with 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists on 10 of 18 from the field. Without Anthony Davis, however, the Lakers just don’t have enough talent and fall to 14-21 for the season.

Now, three games from even one play-in tournament spot, the reality is that the Lakers could miss the playoffs for the third time in five seasons since James arrived in Los Angeles in 2018. With the Lakers struggling and his 38th birthday just two days later on December 30, James was asked some general questions about what’s going through his mind these days and how much longer he wants to play.

In an uncharacteristic response that suggested the Lakers’ overall situation was dampening some of his enthusiasm, he said he no longer wanted to play basketball just to play. He wants to win.

“I do not have a number [of years I can keep playing],” James said. “As long as my mind stays on it, I can play at this level for a minute. It’s my fault. My body will be fine because if my mind is in it I will make sure my body is taken care of and I will keep working.

“I’m a winner and I want to win. I want to win and give myself a chance to win and still fight for championships. This has always been my passion and goal since I joined the league as an 18-year-old from Akron, Ohio. I know it takes a few steps to get there, but once you get there and know how to get there – playing basketball at this level just to play basketball isn’t in my DNA. It’s no longer in my DNA. We’ll see what happens and see how fresh my spirit stays over the next few years.

Lakers point guard Dennis Schroder claimed in an interview earlier this month that James wants to play until he’s 45. “I asked him how long he wanted to play and he said he wanted to play for five to seven more years,” Schroder said. “He’s turning 38 now, he says 45.”

The widespread opinion in the league is that James wants to play with his eldest son, Bronny, and that would require him to play until he is at least 40 years old. Bronny James is a high school senior and is expected to enter the league via the 2024 NBA draft, although much remains to be decided about his NBA prospects.

James is no longer the undisputed top player in the league, but he’s still playing in the top flight in his 20th season. In 27 games, he averaged 27.8 points, 8 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game while shooting 49.7 percent from the field. He’ll be heading to his 19th All-Star game in a few months and has a good chance of making his 19th All-NBA appearance if he stays healthy.

But as special as James’ longevity is, everyone’s career has to end at some point, and that fact bothers him.

“I’m thinking about how much longer I’m going to play the game,” James said. “I’m thinking about not wanting to end my career at this level from a team perspective. I still want to be able to fight for championships because I know what I can bring to any ball club with the right pieces. I think about how my son will soon be graduating from high school and going to college and I’m still playing and my youngest son will be a junior next year and how much time I’ll be missing.

“Throughout the day, the weeks, the months, I think about a little bit of everything. Think about how much of the world I’ll see when I’m done with the game. But at the end of the day I keep what’s most important to me and when it’s time for us to work I lock myself up. Whenever I get the chance to have a day off, I’m still kind of cooped up, but I give myself an opportunity to relax a bit by watching other teams or shows or spending time with my family. Lots of thoughts but for the most part it’s been a good ride so far.

James agreed to a two-year, $97.1 million offseason extension with the Lakers that includes a player option for the 2024-25 season. This extension put him on the same timeline as Davis, who also has an option to drop out in the summer of 2024. The assumption was that the Lakers had a two-year window to build around these two superstars, but given Davis’ ongoing injury issues, the team’s disappointing performances and recent comments from James, one can well question if they even did be held out for so long.