SI:AM | Questions Swirl About Lakers’ Future After Loss to Nuggets

Will Darvin Ham be back? Will LeBron?
An uncertain summer awaits LeBron and the Lakers.
An uncertain summer awaits LeBron and the Lakers. / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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In today’s SI:AM: 

🤔 LeBron’s uncertain future
🏈 Inside teams’ QB choices
🐺 UConn’s big addition

Where do they go from here?

In an outcome that should come as a surprise to no one, the Los Angeles Lakers saw their season end on Monday night with a loss to the Denver Nuggets. Changes are certainly on the horizon for the Lakers, but the question is whether that will be a mild tinkering that retains the team’s current core or if they will blow everything up and start from scratch.

L.A. was able to stave off elimination with a win in Game 4, but it had been clear for some time that this season would not end with a deep playoff run. LeBron James and Anthony Davis were everything the Lakers needed them to be this year. The oft-injured Davis played a career-high 76 games. At 39, James played 71 games (his most in a season since joining the Lakers in 2018) and had a career-best .410 three-point shooting percentage. But it didn’t add up to a great team. Los Angeles ranked in the middle of the league in both offensive (15th) and defensive efficiency (16th). It finished with a 47–35 record, good for eighth in the West.

The most likely change for the Lakers seems to be firing coach Darvin Ham. “The Lakers’ unflattering finish leaves Ham’s future as head coach in serious peril,” The Athletic reported Tuesday. According to the report, “some stakeholders” indicated that “it’s highly unlikely” Ham will be back as coach.

Ham and James have had their disagreements in the past, but James has clashed with many of the coaches he has had in his career. Finding the right coach to pair with James has been a challenge for the Lakers since he arrived. If Ham is fired, the Lakers’ next coach would be their fourth in a span of seven seasons.  

But the Lakers have a much more pressing concern to resolve: Will LeBron return next season?

James could become a free agent this summer by declining his $51.4 million player option. It’s staggering to imagine the circus that would surround another LeBron free agency decision, but it’s a real possibility. It’s also a question that will linger for a while. Asked after Monday night’s game whether it could have been his last with the Lakers, LeBron replied, “Uh, I’m not gonna answer that.”

The complicating factor here is LeBron’s previously stated desire to play in the NBA with his eldest son, Bronny. The younger James declared for the NBA draft earlier this month while still maintaining his college eligibility. He also entered the NCAA transfer portal. He has until June 16 to decide whether he wants to stay in the draft or return to school.

After suffering a cardiac arrest in July, Bronny’s college career got off to an underwhelming start. He averaged 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game for USC as a freshman, making six starts in 25 appearances. He may very well develop into an NBA-caliber player, but he didn’t look like one in his first college season.

If LeBron is serious about playing with Bronny, he could pick up his option with the Lakers for next season while Bronny returns to college to develop his game before entering next year’s draft, allowing LeBron to sign with whichever team selects Bronny in 2025. Or Bronny could just go pro right now. He might not be ready for the pros yet, but that won’t matter to teams hoping to lure LeBron. The Athletic reported that “the Lakers are very open to the prospect” of drafting Bronny this year. That’s one way to convince LeBron to stay.

Although it’s also at least somewhat possible that LeBron has played not only his last game with the Lakers but his last game in the NBA, period. Even though James had such a tremendous season, he’s still set to turn 40 in the middle of next season. The question isn’t how much longer he can keep playing, but how much longer he wants to keep playing.

“I got a family,” James told ESPN near the end of the season. “I got a nine-year-old daughter. I got a son that’s in college, that’s deciding if he’s going to go to college or go pro. I got a son that’s about to be a senior in high school. I’ve missed a lot of family time and they’ve allowed me to do that and never put no pressure on me. ...

“That s--- is important too. What more [is left]? I’ve done everything I can do. There’s nothing I haven’t accomplished in this league that I’ve wanted to accomplish. So like at some point you got to [hang it up].”

Apr 26, 2024; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons first round NFL draft pick QB Michael Penix Jr.
Atlanta selected Michael Penix Jr. in the first round of the NFL draft. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The best of Sports Illustrated

The top five…

… things I saw last night: 

5. Derrick White’s career-high 38 points (including eight threes) as the Celtics rolled past the Heat in Game 4.
4. Mitch Garver’s walk-off homer for the Mariners.
3. Jamal Murray’s dunk right on top of LeBron to break a tie late in the game.
2. Murray’s game-winner to send the Lakers home.
1. Evgenii Dadonov’s goal from an impossible angle.


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Dan Gartland

DAN GARTLAND

Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).