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Frustrated LeBron on Lakers: ‘I don’t want to finish my career playing at this level’

Los Angeles Lakers v Miami Heat

MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 28: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during the fourth quarter of the game against the Miami Heat at FTX Arena on December 28, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

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When LeBron James signed an extension with the Lakers that kept him tied to the team until at least the summer of 2024, he pushed for and was promised the organization would make upgrades to build a roster that could win — and maybe even contend — now.

That didn’t happen. The Rob Pelinka-led front office tried to walk the fine line of winning now and holding on to assets for the future (both cap space for next summer, and first-round picks in 2027 and 2029), Los Angeles waited for the perfect deal that never came. We see the fruit of that tree now: the Lakers dropped their fifth game in the last six without Anthony Davis, this time to the Heat 112-98, they are 14-21 and sitting at 13th in the West. In his postgame press conference, LeBron let his growing frustration come out:

“I think about how much longer I’m gonna play the game. I think about how I don’t want to finish my career playing at this level, from a team aspect. I want to still be able to compete for championships because I know what I can bring to any ball club with the right pieces. I think about my son graduating high school soon and going off to college and I’m still playing and my youngest son will be a junior next year and how much more time I’ll miss.

“Throughout the course of a day, to the weeks, to the months, I think about a little bit of everything. Think about how much of the world I’m gonna see when I’m done playing the game. But at the end of the day I keep the main thing the main thing, and when it’s time for us to work, I lock in. When I have an opportunity to have a day off, I’m still kind of locked in, but I do give myself an opportunity to decompress a little bit by watching other teams or watching shows or spending time with my family. Lot of thoughts, but for the most part it’s been a good ride so far.”

LeBron has let his frustration with this roster bubble up a few times in recent weeks. His critics will quickly point out he shares the blame in all this — he and Davis pushed for the Russell Westbrook trade over one that would have brought Buddy Heild to the Lakers from Sacramento. There is truth in that, LeBron is not blameless — but also nobody in the funky Lakers management structure was the adult in the room who stood up and said no. They backed the Westbrook trade rather than saying this was a terrible idea (which, anyone who had watched Westbrook in the previous couple of seasons knew). Management moved away from having solid young 3&D role players around LeBron and Davis — the formula that won the bubble title — and brought in older, slower players who were not defenders. There was an overall failure of vision, player evaluation, and execution.

Then this summer, the Lakers were hesitant to go all in (specifically on a Hield/Myles Turner trade) — when you have 37-year-old LeBron you have to do what it takes to win now. You owe that to LeBron, who has played at an All-NBA level through all this. You owe it to your fans. Rebuild later — it’s the advantage of being the Lakers, free agents will always want to come.

At this point, the Lakers are likely to do something small at the trade deadline hoping to land some help on the wing, but they will keep those first-round picks and their cap space and look to make a move next offseason (hello free agent Kyrie Irving). The sense is making a big move now is throwing good money after bad.

But LeBron turns 38 on Friday, and the Lakers have wasted his season. He has every right to be frustrated.