LOS ANGELES − Even LeBron James has the occasional existential ennui.
We saw that late Monday night after the Denver Nuggets swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals when he revealed that retirement before next season is a possibility.
“Just for me personally going forward with the game of basketball, I’ve got a lot to think about,” James said.
It was a raw moment and not uncharacteristic from James in the aftermath of a long season that ended in a loss.
Multiply that with good friend Carmelo Anthony announcing his retirement from professional basketball Monday, leaving the 38-year-old James as the last remaining NBA player from the 2003 draft.
His oldest son, Bronny, is headed off to college in the fall to study and play basketball at Southern California.
He had a foot injury and played in just 55 games this season, missing 13 consecutive games late in the season. “I don’t like the fact that I didn’t play as many games as I would’ve liked because of the injury,” James said.
He will get an MRI. There could be surgery. There could be a long rehab. Maybe he’s not with the Lakers at the start of the season but joins the team when healthy.
It’s not a surprise that after 20 seasons, four championships, four Finals MVPs, four regular-season MVPs, 10 Finals appearances and the league’s all-time scoring record on his résumé that James broached retirement.
Even James asks himself: What’s next for the rest of my life?
James still has game. He had a 40-point, 10-rebound, nine-assist performance in the Game 4 loss to the Nuggets and made the All-NBA team for the 19th time. It is remarkable.
But was that the end?
It’s too early to tell.
LEBRON JAMES HINTS AT RETIREMENT: A reality that shouldn't surprise NBA fans
After talking to people close to James, it’s prudent to consider that it’s not unusual for James to show vulnerability and make news following a season-ending loss.
It has happened multiple times.
When James lost to Boston in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals and headed into free agency, he told reporters, “It’s all about winning for me, and I think the Cavs are committed to do that. But at the same time, I’ve given myself options to this point.”
He used one of those options and left Cleveland for Miami, and when he lost to Dallas in the NBA Finals in his first season, he clawed at the criticism. “All the people that was rooting for me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today," he said.
When his contract was up after Miami lost to San Antonio in the 2014 Finals, James said, “You guys are trying to find answers. I’m not going to give you one. I’m just not going to give it to you. When I get to that point, I’ll deal with it.”
Of course, he went back to Cleveland in 2014 and when the Cavs lost to Golden State in 2015, James offered another glimpse into his psyche.
“I always look at it: Would I rather not make the playoffs or lose in the Finals? I don’t know. I don’t know. … I’m almost starting to be like, I’d rather not even make the playoffs than to lose in the Finals," he said. "It would hurt a lot easier if I just didn’t make the playoffs, and I didn’t have a shot at it.”
But that’s not how he truly feels, as he acknowledged Monday, saying, “I don’t play for anything besides winning championships at this point in my career.”
At times, he didn’t sound like a player who wanted to retire. “I love to play the game. I love to compete," he said.
He could be using the moment as leverage to ensure the Lakers make roster improvements that put them in better position to win a title.
Bottom line: James often finds room for contemplative reflection after his last game of the season.
NBA mortality is real even for James. But James has not discussed retirement with his non-family inner circle, a person close to James told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about James’ situation.
Following breadcrumbs can lead to a dead end with James. The more realistic scenario is that James gets away from basketball for a short time, assesses his foot injury, spends time with family and friends and recovers from a long season.
Maybe Monday was James’ last NBA game. But once the disappointment wears off, I suspect James will commit to at least another season.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LeBron James has history of postseason reflection. Don't read into it