After up-and-down season, Lakers face an uncertain future

DENVER — As star forward LeBron James sat at the Lakers’ podium inside Ball Arena on Monday night after the team’s season-ending 108-106 playoff loss to the Denver Nuggets, questions about his basketball future naturally arose.

“I haven’t given it much thought,” James said after the Nuggets eliminated them for the second straight year, this time in five games. “Obviously at some point I’ll sit down with Rich [Paul], my agent, I’ll sit down with my family and we’ll see what’s best, what’s best for my career.

“So we’ll cross that when we need to.”

The 39-year-old James was less than an hour removed from wrapping up his unprecedented 21st NBA season when tasked with addressing his future, with the four-time league MVP averaging 25.7 points on 54% shooting (career-high 41% on 3-pointers) to go with 8.3 assists and 7.3 rebounds.

But the Lakers ultimately fell short of their goal of winning the NBA championship, raising questions about what James will do with his $51.4 million player option for the 2024-25 season.

When directly asked if he gave any thought to the idea that Monday was possibly his last game in a Lakers uniform, James evaded the question.

“Ummm, I’m not going to answer that,” James responded while grinning. “I appreciate it.”

James is one of many significant members of the 2023-24 Lakers with an uncertain future.

After an up-and-down season, Coach Darvin Ham’s status with the organization is reportedly up in the air, with ESPN and The Athletic reporting that his job is in jeopardy. Ham has two seasons left on the four-year contract he signed in 2022.

The Athletic, citing unnamed sources, reported that Ham is unlikely to return.

“My mind’s all over the place right now,” Ham said after Monday’s loss. “It’s been a hell of a two years, I’ll tell you that. Sitting in this seat, it’s been a hell of a two years.

“Control what I can control, continue to grow, and hopefully be a better coach for it.”


The Lakers came into 2023-24 with loftier goals than being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

After a surprise run to last year’s Western Conference finals, during which they were swept by the Nuggets, the Lakers prioritized continuity and brought back the core of the roster, optimistic they had enough to contend.

“Our theme was continuity,” Lakers president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka said, “and bringing our group back that was a Western Conference finals team and trying to improve around the edges.”

But the Lakers stumbled out of the gates following an opening-night loss to the Nuggets, falling to 3-5 after dropping three consecutive early November games. Ham responded by benching Austin Reaves, who was going through early-season struggles, for Cam Reddish on Nov. 10 with the hopes the move would improve the defense and provide better balance.

The Lakers went 11-4 in their next 15 games, not including their Dec. 9 win over the Indiana Pacers in the inaugural In-Season Tournament championship game. The month-long stretch of strong play momentarily catapulted the Lakers to fourth place in the Western Conference standings.

But the good feelings quickly soured as their performances dipped.

They lost 10 of their 13 games immediately after the In-Season Tournament, including a pair of four-game losing streaks, dropping them to 17-19. During this slide, The Athletic reported there was a “deepening disconnect” between Ham and the Lakers’ locker room with issues related to the rotation, starting lineup changes and inconsistent roles.

“It comes with the territory,” Ham said at the time. “I’m solid. My governor, Jeanie Buss, the boss lady; our president Robert Pelinka – we’re all aligned. As long as they’re not saying it, I guess I’m good. I know how they feel about me and the situation we’re currently in. So, we’re all on the same page.”

In addition to benching Reaves, who became a full-time starter again in early January, Ham also moved guard D’Angelo Russell to a reserve role after Russell’s rough play in early-to-mid December – a stretch in which the Lakers dropped five of six games.

The Lakers used six different starting lineups during the aforementioned 13-game slide, in part because of injuries but also because Ham was searching for the right groups to stop the Lakers’ skid. Two of those starting lineups included having Reaves and Russell come off the bench in favor of wing-led groups – James, Taurean Prince, Jarred Vanderbilt and Reddish or Rui Hachimura – next to Anthony Davis. Russell regained his starting spot in mid-January.

The Lakers’ 7-8 January put them at 24-25 after back-to-back road losses to the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks, with James sending a cryptic hourglass emoji after the loss to the Hawks.

But the Lakers eventually settled on a starting lineup of Russell, Reaves, Hachimura, James and Davis, taking advantage of the continuity that the group built during the end of the 2022-23 season. The move paid off, with the Lakers going 18-6 in regular-season games that five-man group started and the Lakers winning 22 of their final 32 games.

“Throughout the season we got better, even with all the injuries or whatnot that kind of set us back,” Russell said. “Guys came alive, if it was AR, obviously Bron and A.D. do their thing. Myself. Guys had spurts throughout the season that kind of gave us energy, gave us a new light, gave us some positive reinforcement whenever we were down.

“As far if we’ll be better the longer we’re together – next year, the year following – that’s something, you know, you gotta have a core group of guys, core coach. When you practice continuity and things like that from Day 1, I don’t think that’s just something you just throw a group of guys together and figure it out.”

The Lakers finished the regular season 47-35 for eighth place in the West before beating the New Orleans Pelicans in the Play-In Tournament to become the seventh seed, setting up a playoff rematch with the Nuggets, a first-round series that left them starting their offseason earlier than they’d hoped.

“I’m not a participation guy,” James responded when asked whether how the season ended instilled any further confidence in this group if it sticks together. “We lost. And we move on and we can be better but our season has been derailed all season with just injuries and guys in and out. And I talked about it all year: it’s hard to say who we are and what we can be because we have yet to be whole.”

Forward Jarred Vanderbilt, a starter for last season’s run, missed 53 regular-season games due to injuries, including 20 to start the season and 32 to end it.

Gabe Vincent, one of the Lakers’ main free agent signings, only played in 11 regular-season games because of left knee ailments. Christian Wood didn’t play after the All-Star break because of left knee ailments. Hachimura also missed 14 games.

But the Lakers didn’t take advantage of their four best players – James (71), Davis (76), Russell (76) and Reaves (82) – being as healthy and available as anyone could have hoped for. James’ games played were his most in his six seasons with the Lakers, while Reaves’ and Davis’ were career highs.


Davis, Reaves, Hachimura, Vincent and Vanderbilt have guaranteed contracts for at least the 2024-25 and 2025-26 seasons. This gives the Lakers a semblance of stability, but also players to include in trades if they decide to go that route.

Russell is among the five players, including James, with player options for 2024-25. James, Russell, Reddish, Wood and Jaxson Hayes have until June 29 to make decisions on their player options.

“When I signed my contract last year, I knew what position I was going to put myself in,” said Russell, whose option is for $18.7 million. “So to be in that position now with a little leverage, I’ll try to take advantage of it.”

Taurean Prince and Spencer Dinwiddie will be unrestricted free agents this summer, while Max Christie could be a restricted free agent if the Lakers extend him a qualifying offer.

Davis is hopeful the Lakers will prioritize continuity again this summer.

“It’s all about continuity,” Davis said. “A lot of our guys were out of the lineup. We found something towards the end of the season with that lineup. Obviously, some guys in the locker room have decisions to make. But I think the way you continue to compete for championships is kind of keeping the core.

Related Articles

Lakers |

Swanson: The Lakers’ best next move? Don’t panic

Lakers |

Lakers’ season ends as Nuggets’ Jamal Murray hits another game-winner

Lakers |

Lakers’ Jarred Vanderbilt available to return in Game 5 against Nuggets

Lakers |

‘Why not us?’: Lakers looking to extend series against Nuggets

Lakers |

Alexander: Yes, the Lakers are still alive after Game 4 win against Nuggets

“You look at a team like Denver, Boston, Golden State, like all these teams who’ve done unbelievable things. Their core group will stay together and you have a supporting cast around that and not make too many changes. But it’s different when a lot of guys have a lot of player options and gotta make decisions for them and their families. We’ll see what happens over the course of the summer. But just watching and just knowing from experience, the way you continue to compete for championships is keeping that core group together.”

All eyes are on James and Ham, with the former having a choice to make while the latter waits for the Lakers’ brass to make a decision on his future.

James and Davis are guaranteed to be teammates at least one more time when they play for Team USA in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

“We’ve done something special together,” Davis said of James. “Good thing about it, I’m going to be with him all summer. So I have a lot of conversations and things like that. But he knows how I feel about him.”

Davis added: “He has been in this position numerous times in his career, where he had to make a decision ultimately for himself and his family. I’ll be right there supporting whatever he decides to do. Obviously it’s been a great five seasons with him. If he does decide to come back, obviously this isn’t what we want to be left at, losing in the first round. If he does, obviously our goal is to come back and be a championship contender, stay healthy and give Laker Nation what they deserve. But he has a decision to make and when that time comes he’ll inform me and inform you guys.”

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *