James, Ham Face Uncertain Futures with Lakers after Being Eliminated from Playoffs by Nuggets Again

DENVER (AP) — The futures of LeBron James and Darvin Ham with the Los Angeles Lakers are murky after their first-round playoff exit.

One might choose to leave and the other might not have a choice.

For James, the decision is his — whether he wants to wear purple and gold again in his 22nd NBA season.

For Ham, it’s about whether the team brings him back for a third season as coach after back-to-back series losses to Denver.

Big decisions loom after the defending champion Nuggets eliminated Los Angeles from the playoffs with a 108-106 win in Game 5 on Monday. Soon after, James was asked if he had given any thought that this could very well be his last time pulling on his No. 23 Lakers jersey.

“I’m not going to answer that,” said James, who had 30 points and 11 assists.

All of it was difficult for James to process so soon after Jamal Murray drained the winning floater in the closing seconds. It was the second game in the series that Murray hit the game-winning shot. It was another game in which the Lakers blew a decent lead and a series in which they were oh-so-close to making it look even closer than a 4-1 win by Denver.

Not that James takes solace in that, or even uses it going forward should this team stay together.

“We lost. I’m not participation guy,” James said. “You move on. … It’s hard to say who we are or who we can be, because we have yet to be whole (due to injuries).”

Ham is on the hot seat after a second straight postseason exit at the hands of the Nuggets. He was asked how he would sum up what it’s been like leading James and Anthony Davis, in this organization, as a first-time head coach.

“It’s a great question,” Ham said. “My mind is all over the place right now. Maybe at some point I’ll give you an answer. It’s been a hell of a two years, I’ll tell you that. Ultimately, you want to win that ultimate prize.”

What’s next for James at the moment is family time. His son, Bronny, has a decision to make on whether he’s going to stay in the NBA draft or go back to school. LeBron James plans to rest and then prepare for training camp with USA Basketball, in order to get ready for the Paris Games this summer.

James demurred when asked about his longtime goal of playing alongside Bronny in the pros.

“I haven’t given much thought lately. I thought about it in the past,” James said. “The kid has to do what he wants to do — and I don’t want to say kid no more, young man has to decide what he wants to do. I just think the fact that we’re even having the conversation is pretty cool.”

James doesn’t exactly know what factors will weigh on his decision to return for a seventh season with the Lakers.

Not now, anyway.

“I’ll sit down with Rich (Paul), my agent, and sit down with my family, see what’s best, what’s best for my career,” James said. “We’ll cross that when we need to.”

Should he want to chat, Davis is always available.

“We complement each other,” said Davis, who played through a shoulder stinger in Game 5 to finish with 17 points and 15 rebounds. “He knows how I feel about him. … His goal is obviously to win and I feel like we can do that here.”

James, the league’s all-time leading scorer, will turn 40 on Dec. 30. He’s got a lot of mileage running up and down the court.

“Very taxing — mentally, physically, spiritually, everything,” James said of playing at this stage of his career. “It’s a lot of dedication, a lot of hard work and a lot of long hours. It’s very taxing, but it’s rewarding.

“Because if you love the game, you love the process and you love being great, you don’t mind taking the tax on your body and the mental and your psyche and things of that nature that comes with it.”

By PAT GRAHAM AP Sports Writer


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