"I mean, I have no idea at this point," James said after the Cavs were swept from the Finals by the Warriors in a 108-85 loss.
James said Friday that his family will weigh heavily on his decision. His oldest son, LeBron Jr., will be in the eighth grade in the fall. Like James, his wife Savannah is from Akron and her family lives in the area.
But James also made clear on Friday night he still wants to win championships. That means he has to find a way to beat the Warriors, and his Cavs are 1-8 in the last two Finals against them.
"I still want to be in championship mode," he said. "I think I've shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode."
James has a $35.6 million player's option on his contract for next season. He could exercise it before June 30 and buy himself another season in Cleveland — and another year for his children in Akron-area schools before Junior reaches high school — but he's never picked up the option on any previous contract.
He will draw immense interest from numerous teams, some with cap space and others with a willingness to clear it, including the Lakers, Rockets, 76ers and Spurs. James will also likely hold conversations with players like Paul George — stars he could team up with in an unnamed city to make a run at the Warriors.
If he wanted it, James could get a five-year contract from the Cavs for $209 million. It's more money than any other team could pay him, though he could work a deal in Cleveland to pick up his option and then be traded — and get his money through a contract extension on his new team.
The Cavs have some options to try and improve their roster, in the form of the No. 8 pick in the draft (which they could use in a trade), as well as the contract of All-Star Kevin Love (up to two years and $50 million left). They have a $5.8 million trade exception and taxpayer's exception for roughly $5 million, and Kendrick Perkins' expiring contract for $2.5 million.
But if James comes back, the Cavs would be $40 million over the cap with spots on the roster to fill.
"I hope he stays," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "I mean, we all know that. But after a game like that, I'm not in any position to talk about that. I just appreciate what he's done for us this season. That's all I can really speak about."
If this was James' last game in Cleveland, it didn't come close to living up to the remarkable season he enjoyed. The Cavs were blown out of Game 4 and he finished with 23 points, eight assists and seven rebounds on 7-of-13 shooting. He played the game with a significant hand bruise suffered after punching a whiteboard following a brutal Game 1 loss to the Warriors.
James played in every Cavs game this year — 104 in all, counting 22 postseason contests and, for the first time in his career, 82 regular-season games. This was one of his finest seasons statistically in both the regular and postseasons, including a 34.0 ppg average in the playoffs.
He won two games with shots at the buzzer, played all 48 minutes to beat Boston in a Game 7, and scored 40 or more points eight times in the playoffs — the most in NBA history. James also posted four triple-doubles.
"To be the best player in the world and to give everything you've got in your 15th season, play all 82 games, probably one of the greatest playoff runs that we'll ever see from an individual, to carry this team the way he did all season and leading by example, it's just a testament to his character and who he is as a person and as a player," Lue said.
On at least four occasions since James returned to the Cavs in 2014, he's said he intends to finish his career in Cleveland. He said it as late as the start of training camp, and has never publicly contradicted it. But he has also never sought to put an end to the constant speculation that he could leave Cleveland again, and now of course he's saying only that he intends to consult his family and advisers.
James of course led the Cavs to their only championship in 2016, when the Cavs overcame a 3-1 series deficit to the Warriors and he was Finals MVP.
"At the end of the day, I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business," James said. "To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember.
"Honestly, I think we'll all remember that. It ended a drought for Cleveland of 50-plus years, so I think we'll all remember that in sports history."
James was asked if that one title meant his business was finished in Cleveland, and he said "that's a trick question at the end of the day, and I'm not falling for that."
If James does go back on his stated intention to retire here, it will be because he deems the organization failed to maintain a championship-caliber team around him. He has a right to an opinion, but some context is needed:
1. Thus far, no NBA team has been able to come up with a formula to contend with the Warriors since Kevin Durant signed in 2016. It may indeed take a super team to take them down.
2. Kyrie Irving asked to be traded last summer, in large part because he no longer wanted to play with James.
3. The Cavs and Warriors are neck and neck for the highest payroll in the NBA, so Dan Gilbert has repeatedly lived up to his promise to James to spend.
However, when the front office traded Irving to the Celtics, they got little of value in attempting to beat the Warriors. Isaiah Thomas was injured and Jae Crowder never fit. The draft pick received in the deal ended up being in the No. 8 slot.
The roster, in fact, was so mismatched that the Cavs traded virtually half their players on Feb. 8 for George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. None of them were consistent in the playoffs, and Nance Jr. appears to have the highest ceiling.
"Obviously, I'd love to play with LeBron the rest of my career, but that will be a choice that he makes," said Kevin Love, who along with James, JR Smith and Tristan Thompson is what remains from the 2016 championship team.
So there's the lay of the landscape facing James as he likely heads toward free agency, which starts July 1. He has family considerations he didn't have when he's chosen to leave in the past, he still wants to win championships, and he has said he wants to retire in Cleveland.
James said starting over, again, with a new team "has its pros and it definitely has its cons." Earlier this week, he spoke repeatedly about needing "talent but also a group of minds to be able to compete with Golden State," suggesting that mix may not be in Cleveland.
What wins out, the winning or familial considerations, remains to be seen. Maybe they're one and the same. Or perhaps the Cavs can show him, through bold action leading up to the June 21 draft and beyond, that they can get the roster right.
"When I decide what I'm going to do with my future, my family and the folks that have been with me for the last, you know, 20 years, pretty much, will have a say-so," James said. "Then it ultimately will come down to me, and so we'll see what happens."