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What should Lakers do if LeBron James retires?

Here’s a look at LA’s paths depending on what James decides for the 2023-24 season.

The Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs Monday, falling to the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals 113-111 to complete a sweep for the No. 1 seed. The Lakers were able to make a run despite struggling to open the season, largely due to strong acquisitions at the trade deadline. The play of LeBron James and Anthony Davis was another big reason for the team’s success, but the stars were unable to power through Denver in the conference finals. After the sweep, James had this to say regarding his future.

With the prospect of retirement on the horizon, here are the paths ahead for the Lakers depending on what James decides.

Path 1: James decides to retire

The King has accomplished everything in the sport. He’s the league’s all-time leading scorer, a NBA champion, a Finals MVP, a regular season MVP, a scoring champion and an assists leader. He’s played 20 seasons so far, getting an All-Star nod for 19 of them.

One thing pushing him out the door could be injuries. James has suffered some sort of injury every season since joining the Lakers, a sign that his body could be breaking down after 20 long years in the league. His most recent issue was a foot problem he played through at the end of the season.

James’ son, Bronny James, is on his own basketball journey at USC next year. Maybe the King wants to be at every game and watch his son grow without the additional responsibility of carrying a team. That could also be weighing on his mind.

If James does decide to retire, he’ll likely forfeit the $97+ million he’s due over the next two seasons. That would open up another $46+ million for the Lakers for the 2023-24 season.

LA has Anthony Davis, Mo Bamba and Jarred Vanderbilt under contract for next season. Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura are priorities in free agency, while Lonnie Walker, Dennis Schroder and Malik Beasley could also be back. The Lakers can have close to $78 million in cap space if James retires and they decline Beasley’s team option, assuming the league’s projection of the $134 million cap.

That leaves the Lakers plenty of money to go hunting for another star to pair with Davis, who seems set to be the franchise player for years to come. Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Khris Middleton could all be free agents, while second-tier players like Nikola Vucevic and Fred VanVleet could also be in play.

Path 2: James decides to stay

This is the more likely scenario. James has $97+ million reasons to keep playing, and he has said many times he wants to play at least one season with his son in the NBA. That’s why he had the player option in his contract. Bronny will be at USC, which means James can still attend some games while going through his own season. He may take some more personal days, but he can still be there when it counts.

Obviously, James coming back would hamper the Lakers a bit on the salary cap. They’d have about $31 million in space but would still like to bring Reaves and Hachimura back. The Lakers can go over the cap to retain their own players, so they could use that cap space ahead of time to sign other rotation players. Irving is obviously a target with his ties to James and Davis, but the Lakers can do some damage elsewhere if the point guard is not interested.

LA would likely want to know how James plans on approaching his career before the 2023 NBA Draft, where the team holds the No. 17 selection. That can be moved for a player who can contribute immediately, and the Lakers can make other moves via trades to improve the roster. Chris Paul is a name that keeps coming up in rumors. The Lakers will surely explore that possibility.

If James decides to come back, he’ll want a promise of a maximized season. The Lakers have shown they are willing to do that.