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LeBron James still committed to Paris Olympics, but health remains the big key

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) warms up before the start of the NBA All-Star basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — LeBron James still wants to participate in the Paris Olympics this summer, sure sounds like extending his NBA career for at least a couple more seasons is an option and said he would like to see his playing days end as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Of course, not even he knows if any or all of that is possible.

James played in his 20th All-Star Game on Sunday, extending his record for appearances in the NBA’s midseason showcase, but arrived with a plan to not be on the court in Indianapolis for very long because of an ongoing treatment plan for his problematic left ankle. He had eight points in 14 minutes during the first half and didn’t start the second half, giving up his spot to Golden State’s Stephen Curry.

“The most important thing for me is definitely my health,” James said.

And that will be the deciding factor in just about all of James’ basketball decisions for the rest of his career — short-term, long-term, however long he has left on his unprecedented resume. The first priority right now is the playoffs, with the Lakers currently 30-26 and ninth in the Western Conference even after winning six of their last seven games.

“We’re trending in the right direction,” James said.

He is 39, having played more minutes than anyone in NBA history. If he comes back this fall for a 22nd season — and he intends to — he’ll tie Vince Carter for the NBA record in that department. He insists that he doesn’t know how long he wants to play, either.

For now, it’s all about the Lakers and their postseason push. After that, he’ll decide whether to play for USA Basketball this summer. At this point, Paris is in his plans.

“I told myself before the season, when I committed to being part of the Olympic team, obviously it was all predicated on my health,” James said. “As it stands right now, I am healthy enough to be on the team and perform at a level that I know I can perform at.”

The Olympic question is a bit tricky.

The Lakers’ season could end in April, May or June. If it ends early, James will have tons of time to heal up and get ready for a U.S. training camp that starts in early July, then will have a number of exhibition games, followed by the Olympics that will end in mid-August. But if the Lakers make a deep postseason run, it might prompt James to say he’ll value time off and getting ready for the 2024-25 NBA season over jamming another five or six weeks of basketball into his summer schedule.

“It’s more miles put on these tires,” said James, a three-time Olympian and two-time Olympic gold medalist. “But if I’m committed — which I am — to Team USA, then I’m going to commit my mind, body and soul to being out there for Team USA, being out there representing our country with the utmost respect and go out there and play.”

He’s 132 points away from reaching 40,000 for his regular-season career, which means he’s likely somewhere around five games from hitting that milestone. There aren’t a lot of records left to chase; James is already the scoring king and his place in history was secured long, long ago. He’s long said he wants to play in an NBA that has one of his sons in it and USC freshman Bronny James would be eligible to enter the draft this spring.

“I have not mapped out how many seasons I have left,” James said. “I know it’s not that many.”

He hasn’t even figured out if he wants a retirement tour for a final season where he’ll be saying goodbye in every NBA city or if choosing to “Tim Duncan it” — meaning going out very quietly, like the San Antonio star who never wanted any attention — will be the plan.

“I’ve never been that great with accepting praise,” James said. “It’s a weird feeling for me.”

James could also be a free agent this summer if he chooses to go that route. He has a player option for more than $51 million for next season and most players wouldn’t pass up making that kind of money. But James’ net worth has been estimated to exceed $1 billion already, his off-court investments are varied, and it’s probably a safe bet that the size of the paycheck no longer is a top priority.

“I am a Laker, and I am happy, very happy, being a Laker the last six years and I hope it stays that way,” James said. “But I don’t have the answer to how long it is, or which uniform I’ll be in. Hopefully, it is with the Lakers. It’s a great organization, with so many greats with it. I don’t know how it’s going to end, but it’s coming. It’s coming for sure.”

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