The Lakers made the decision to allow James’ groin injury, which he suffered against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day, to fully heal. Having been eliminated from playoff contention, Los Angeles’ focus turns towards enhancing their lottery odds as they construct a trade package for Anthony Davis.
James will miss out on the final six games of the regular season. The Lakers have won three of their last four, despite struggling since LeBron suffered injury back on 25th December. The former Cleveland Cavalier missed 17 games and has not consistently been at his dominant best since returning to the court.
The numbers are still good, perhaps great, for James this season. His defence has been less than stellar, but the problems are not down to his individual performance.
Shutting down LeBron James has been unheard of. He has made the playoffs his home, cruising through the Eastern Conference year upon year. The Lakers, though, have been out of realistic contention for a postseason berth for quite some time.
Put a bit of that down to the depth of the West. The Kings, who have been a revelation this season, will not make the playoffs. In the East, three of the Hornets, Pistons, Heat, Magic and Nets will. The task with the Lakers was sterner in that sense.
James’ case was not aided by the team’s recruitment either, though. Moves that looked peculiar in the offseason have not worked out. The fit has not been right as the Lakers, for some reason, broke away from the ‘surround him with shooters’ formula that has been tried and tested throughout his career.
Then there’s the injuries. It’s not just been James who missed time – Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo have played a combined 59 games. Any team would be hurt by those absences, and the Lakers did not have a big enough margin for error to shrug them off.
Ultimately, even LeBron James was going to suffer a substantial injury at some point. He has been close to invincible since arriving in the NBA, and maybe the Lakers are unlucky that the wear and tear took its toll in his first season with them.
It was always a risk, and one worth taking, with a mid-thirties LeBron. The gamble, though, was increased by questionable roster construction and other fitness issues.
No one in Staples Center expected LeBron’s first season as a Laker to end like this. Few in the NBA world did.
Seeing the game’s best choose to sit out games might not please the league office, but the Lakers had little choice. Winning games is not good for them right now. Risking further injury to James is reckless.
Improving their chances of a top four pick – or the unthinkable prospect of the first overall selection – is all the Lakers have to gain from here.
It’s the right thing to do, it’s the best for all parties, but this is far from what Magic Johnson, Luke Walton or LeBron James expected to be deciding in March. Barring ludicrous lottery luck, the question now is now whether the Los Angeles Lakers have learned from their mistakes that left them in this disappointing scenario.