The NBA world was flipped on its axis Monday night after the Los Angeles Lakers were swept in the NBA Western Conference Finals by the Denver Nuggets.

The elimination itself wasn’t that surprising — the Nuggets were the No. 1 seed in the West and the Lakers made a bit of a Cinderella run to even make the playoffs. But it was comments made after the game by Lakers star LeBron James regarding whether or not he planned to return for a 21st season in the league next year that brought the sports community to a standstill.

James, 38, reportedly told TNT’s Chris Haynes that he “wasn’t sure” if he would be back for the Lakers at the start of next season.

“Just personally, with me moving forward with the game of basketball, I got a lot to think about,” James told Haynes after the Lakers’ 113-111 loss to the Nuggets Monday night.

James just completed his 20th season in the league, a season in which his team toiled in the standings basement for much of the year before the team was rebuilt from the ground up and went on a tear to close out the final third of the season.

While the run to the Western Conference Finals felt unprecedented, it apparently took an emotional and physical toll on the league’s all-time leading scorer.

On Tuesday, the Lakers held exit interviews with several players, as well as general manager Rob Pelinka and head coach Darvin Ham. James did not participate in exit interviews.

On the subject of James’ comments, Pelinka said the organization supported their star player in whatever path his life takes him.

“LeBron has given as much to the game of basketball as anyone who’s ever played and when you do that, you you earn the right to decide whether you’re going to give more,” Pelinka told reporters. “I think sometimes we put athletes, entertainers on a pedestal, but they’re humans. And just like us, they have inflection points in their career. And our job as the Lakers organization, is to support any player on our team if they reach a career inflection point.”

Pelinka added that neither he nor Ham have met with James to discuss his future, saying they planned to give him time to determine the next steps in his career.

“Obviously, our hope would be that his career continues. But we want to, again, just give him the time to have that inflection point and support him along the way and everything he does,” Pelinka said.

Ham, who just completed his first year as a head coach in the league in one of the most demanding markets in sports, said he sympathized with the anguish his players felt after they were dispatched by the Nuggets in four mostly competitive games.

“Coming off a tough loss like that, the work we put in in the season, I think I was ready to retire after last night too,” Ham joked. The former 11-year NBA vet credited James with being a valuable resource and sounding board in his first year coaching the Lakers.

“He was right there front and center for me and my staff. So kudos to him, love him support him, and, again, he’s earned the right to do whatever he feels comfortable doing,” Ham said.

James comments came as a bit of a surprise to those who have followed his career closely.

In past years, James has outwardly expressed his desire to play in the NBA alongside his oldest son, Bronny, who has signed a letter of intent to play basketball at USC. But if James were to stick around to see that plan come to fruition, that would mean two more grueling years as a top player in the league, and one who is expected to carry a massive offensive and defensive burden for whatever team he suits up for.

Despite being long in the tooth in NBA terms, James still rose to the occasion in his fifth season as a member of the Lakers. He made his 19th consecutive All-NBA team earlier this month, and was selected as captain for the NBA’s All Star game for the sixth time.

He started all 16 games for the Lakers in the 2023 Playoffs, averaging more than 38 minutes per game, and more than 42 minutes per game against the Nuggets.

But Father Time remains undefeated, likely even against the King.

Some NBA analysts and writers have theorized that James’ unexpected retirement comments are simply a bargaining chip — a message to Pelinka and Lakers ownership that his time as one of the league’s top players is fleeting, and the team will need to do either everything in its power to build a championship contending team in his twilight, or watch him walk out the door.

To the team’s credit, Pelinka pivoted mid-season in a series of virtuoso trades that saw the Lakers send out Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley and Thomas Bryant, and bring in Mo Bamba, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and D’Angelo Russell — the latter two whom played critical roles in the Lakers’ postseason run.

As part of that trade, the team mortgaged part of its future, sending out a 2027 first round pick — one of the last remaining tradable assets in their arsenal. For the Lakers, the coffers are mostly empty and Pelinka and crew have their hands half-tied as they try to build a team that can both maximize LeBron’s talents, while providing him with enough respite to avoid wearing down during the grind of the NBA regular season.

Still, Pelinka says he pictures a Lakers championship team with LeBron to look much like this year’s squad, with James and Anthony Davis as the focal points.

“LeBron and A.D. as two pillars is, to us, an unmatched combination that we’ll continue to lean into and build around,” Pelinka said. “We’re proud of that combination of superstars and want to continue to invest in that and invest in advancing the growth we had this year into next season.”

Whether or not LeBron James will be part of that combination remains to be seen.