When LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, there weren’t many expectations for immediate title contention. But while most weren’t expecting the team to necessarily play into June, even fewer people thought they wouldn’t be playing past April.
That’s where the Lakers find themselves, though, so instead of spending the start of spring wondering “how far can LeBron take the Lakers this postseason,” we are instead left discussing things like “Will the Space Jam 2 filming schedule affect LeBron’s availability for the 2019 FIBA World Cup?”
Still, we do have an answer to that question, because James told Joe Vardon of The Athletic that the big-budget sequel/re-imagining of the Michael Jordan original that will film over the next two summers won’t allow him to participate in the World Cup, even if that will mean missing a chance to play for Team USA and San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich:
With the Lakers’ season being so truncated — at least by LeBron’s standards; the organization has missed the postseason for six years running — there was speculation last week that he might fill some of his time by joining Team USA for the FIBA World Cup in China. LeBron never intended to play this summer, even though the team will be coached by Gregg Popovich, a favorite of his. The “Space Jam 2” production schedule was based on the knowledge that, regardless of when the Lakers’ season ended, LeBron would not play for Team USA.
“I love everything about Pop, obviously, but this is not a good summer for me,” James said.
Still, it sounds like his prior commitment to Bugs Bunny doesn’t necessarily mean that James is ending his international career for good:
On the other hand, LeBron has not ruled out a return to Team USA for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan. He is a two-time Olympic gold medalist who played for the United States at the 2004 (bronze), ’08 and ’12 Games.
“Yeah, that’s a possibility,” LeBron said of Tokyo 2020. “It depends on how I feel. I love the Olympics.”
Provided that James stays relatively healthy — more of an if than ever after a season that saw him miss the most games of his career, but still more likely than not — 2020 would make sense as a send-off for his international playing days, and mean a chance at one more gold medal to add to his collection before he hangs up his flag-adorned jersey.
And while James is still a lot better on the floor than veteran mentors like Jason Kidd were on the 2008 Olympic team, that is the Olympics widely credited with helping James mature into the player and person he is today, and going in 2020 would give him a chance to come full circle, and offer lessons about professionalism to the game’s next great stars in the same way that he received it on “The Redeem Team.”
2020 is still a long way off, and James would be forgiven for choosing to rest up his body before his final guaranteed season in a Lakers uniform next summer, but if he does play, it will be a fitting end to the international playing days of one of the players who most helped turn Team USA around after a few mediocre showings in international play. We’ll see if the next Lakers season ends late enough to change that calculus.