With LeBron James back in Cleveland for All-Star Weekend, he offered a hint that he might consider returning for one more stint with his hometown team, writes Jason Lloyd of The Athletic. When asked about playing for the Cavaliers again before he retires, James gave an open-ended response.
“The door’s not closed on that,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m coming back and playing, I don’t know. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t even know when I’m free.”
James has one season remaining on his current deal with the Lakers at $44,474,988. He could be back on the free agent market in the summer of 2023 at age 38.
James emphasized that he hasn’t specifically pondered a return to Cleveland, but he also hasn’t ruled anything out. Lloyd notes that he could be referring to a simple one-day contract so he could retire as a Cavalier, but he could also mean something more.
The Cavs selected James with the first pick in the 2003 draft, and he spent seven years with the team before leaving for Miami as a free agent in 2010. He returned four years later and took the Cavaliers to four straight NBA Finals, capturing the franchise’s only championship in 2016, before departing for Los Angeles.
Although the Lakers won a title in 2020, Cleveland may have a brighter future than L.A. The Cavaliers have rebuilt since James left and are fourth in the East at 35-23 with plenty of youth on the roster. The Lakers, whose roster is stocked with veterans, are ninth in the West at 27-31.
“I think (Cavs general manager Koby Altman) and those guys have done an unbelievable job drafting and making trades,” James said. “I think big fella (Jarrett Allen), that acquisition was amazing for them to make that trade. Obviously Darius Garland is a big-time player. And I think the role that Kevin (Love) is playing right now has kind of uplifted those young guys, seeing a veteran that could sacrifice, a champion that’s won a championship, all the things that he’s done, to come off the bench and play this role. I am not surprised by anything that they’re doing right now.”
As Lloyd points out, it wouldn’t be easy for Cleveland to open enough cap room to sign James without tearing apart its current core. And James made it clear that he wouldn’t be interested in providing a hometown discount so the Cavs could sign him with their mid-level exception.
“I don’t play mid-level basketball,” he said. “I don’t come back for anything below the top.”
James also revealed today that he plans to play his final NBA season for whichever team winds up with his son, Bronny. Currently a junior in high school, the earliest that Bronny could be draft-eligible is 2024.
“My last year will be played with my son,” James said. “Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year. It’s not about the money at that point.”