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LeBron James before 38th birthday amid Lakers struggles: ‘I don’t want to finish my career playing at this level’

LeBron James doesn’t want to play meaningless basketball.

The Los Angeles Lakers star reflected on his career on Wednesday night following a frustrating loss to the Miami Heat, just days before his 38th birthday.

The Lakers — though missing Anthony Davis — have now lost five of their last six and are just 14-21 this season. At the rate they’re going, even making the playoffs is going to be a battle.

While he doesn’t know how long he will keep playing, he’s starting to see the finish line. And as that approaches, he doesn’t want to keep losing.

“I know as long as my mind stays in it, I can play at this level for a minute,” James said, via the OC Register’s Kyle Goon. “Now, that’s up to my mind … I’m a winner, and I want to win and give myself a chance to win and still compete for championships. That has always been my passion, that has always been my goal since I entered the league as an 18-year-old kid out of Akron, Ohio.

“And I know it takes steps to get there, but once you get there and know how to get there, playing basketball at this level just to be playing basketball is not in my DNA. It’s not in my DNA anymore.”

Now even though he’s thinking about the end of his career, James almost certainly isn’t going to walk away and retire altogether immediately. He’s said repeatedly that he wants to keep playing until his oldest son, Bronny, reaches the league and that he’d do whatever it takes to play a season with him. As Bronny can’t enter the NBA until the 2024 draft under the current rules, that means James has a few seasons left.

What his comments more than likely mean, however, is that he’s sick of losing.

Outside of their title run in 2020, which was finished inside the NBA’s COVID-19 bubble at Walt Disney World, LeBron’s time in Los Angeles hasn’t been great. The Lakers fell in the first round of the playoffs the next season after winning the Finals, and then missed the playoffs altogether last season. James is now on his third coach in five seasons with the Lakers, and they seem to continuously either struggle to stay healthy or find a winning combination of players.

The Lakers clearly need to start winning. The struggles seem to be getting to James, and Wednesday was a perfect example of why. The Lakers, despite trailing by single digits at halftime at FTX Arena, didn’t score in the final four minutes of the contest en route to their 112-98 loss to the Heat — who have had plenty of their own issues this season. James had 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the loss, but the Lakers had 24 turnovers and scored just 17 points in the final quarter.

James signed a two-year, $97 million extension with the Lakers that will keep him with the franchise through the 2024-25 season — though he has an out after next season.

As he starts to think about his exit from the NBA, James knows he doesn’t want to be playing for a team that continuously struggles.

“I think about how much longer I’m going to play the game. I think about that I don’t want to finish my career playing at this level from a team aspect,” James said, via the OC Register. “I’ll still be able to compete for championships because I know what I can still bring to any ball club with the right pieces.”

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James
LeBron James and the Lakers have lost five of their last six games following Wednesday's loss to the Heat. (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today) (USA Today Sports / reuters)