‘Not going to answer that’: LeBron James quiet on future after Lakers’ playoff exit | NBA

The futures of LeBron James and Darvin Ham with the Los Angeles Lakers are murky after their first-round playoff exit to the Denver Nuggets was confirmed on Monday night.

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

The defending champion Nuggets eliminated Los Angeles from the playoffs with a 108-106 win in Game 5 of their series on Monday. After the game, James was asked if he had given any thought that this could 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 the series was closer than the 4-1 result suggests.

James said he did not take solace in his team’s ability to push the Nuggets. “We lost. I’m not a 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 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.”

James demurred when asked about his longtime goal of playing alongside his son, Bronny, in the pros. Bronny opened up the possibility of playing in the NBA when he announced this month that he plans to enter this year’s draft while also retaining his college eligibility.

“I haven’t given much thought lately. I thought about it in the past,” LeBron said on Monday. “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 will turn 40 in December and said he will talk to those close to him before making a final decision.

“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 … [Competing as an older player is] very taxing – mentally, physically, spiritually, everything. 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.”

Meanwhile, Denver will rest ahead of a difficult match-up with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference semi-finals. The Nuggets trailed by double digits in the first four games against the Lakers and by nine on Monday night before their championship quality once again showed up just in time.

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“[The Lakers] are not an easy out,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game. “LeBron James is arguably the greatest player of all-time. Anthony Davis is a Hall of Famer. And they gave us all we could handle. “Now we can try to get ready for Saturday against a beast in Minnesota. But I’ve got to give the Lakers a lot of credit. Man, that was a hard-fought series, a lot harder than 4-1 might indicate because we had to scrap for every game that we won.”

Elsewhere on Monday night, Jalen Williams highlighted a 24-point performance with a back-breaking three with three minutes left, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 97-89 to complete a four-game sweep of their first-round playoff series.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) celebrates as he walks off the court after defeating the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 4. Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 24 points and 10 rebounds for Oklahoma City, who trailed by five in the fourth quarter before suddenly seizing control with a combination of stifling defense and opportunistic shooting. CJ McCollum scored 20 for New Orleans, but the Pelicans hit just eight of 34 shots from three-point range. The Pelicans were missing their star power forward and leading scorer Zion Williamson for all four games in the series.

The Thunder, who are No 1 seeds in the Western Conference, will face the winners of the series between the LA Clippers and Dallas Mavericks, which is currently tied at 2-2.

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