All is not well in Lakers land at the All-Star break in the aftermath of failed Anthony Davis trade talks and a 28-29 start to the season for Los Angeles.
Concerns about LeBron James‘ health can be added to the list.
According to The Athletic, the team is “a little concerned” that James hasn’t fully recovered from the groin injury he suffered on Christmas that sidelined him for several weeks.
The Lakers are privately a little concerned about LeBron. Is he fully healed from the groin strain that cost him a career-worst 18 games? Is he going to pick up his intensity and propel this team back into the playoffs, as he did last year in Cleveland? James, 34, is actually averaging a triple double for the Lakers since his return from injury (23.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, 11.0 assists), but he’s just not moving at the same speed nor is he engaging at the point of attack.
Injury concern shouldn’t be taken lightly at James’ age
Much like Tom Brady, the decline of James’ game has been predicted unsuccessfully on many occasions. But also like Brady, James is assuredly on the back end of his prime, and an injury concern like this one warrants attention.
Of James’ many remarkable assets as a basketball player, one of his most valuable is his availability. As Vardon noted, James had never missed 18 games with a single injury in his career. The most games he’s missed in a single season was 20 in 2011-12. He’s played 74 or more games out of 82 in 11 of his 13 complete NBA seasons.
That the Lakers are concerned that the 34-year-old James who just suffered the most significant injury of his career isn’t back at full force makes sense.
What should the Lakers do?
Now comes the question of how they should manage that concern.
After failing to add Davis or another difference-making piece before the deadline, the Lakers are playing for little more than pride for the rest of the season. This team is clearly not going to compete for a championship.
But that pride factor can’t be underestimated.
James has made the playoffs in every season since his second in the league. If his celebrated arrival in Los Angeles ends outside the playoffs, this season will be considered a massive failure. The pressure on Magic Johnson to make blockbuster moves this offseason will be even more intense.
And just think of the reaction from all of the Kobe-stans who scoffed at James being the next great Laker before he adorned the purple and gold.
What would missing playoffs mean?
But that disaster would be primarily in terms of perception. In practical terms, missing the playoffs wouldn’t make much difference from a likely first-round exit at the hands of one of the West’s powers.
Right now, the Lakers are in 10th place in the West, three games behind the 32-27 Clippers for the final playoff spot.
Caution is prudent
So if the Lakers are genuinely concerned about James’ health, then proceeding cautiously is the correct answer. This project is not about this season.
It’s most assuredly about next season and the season after that.
If James is good to go after some rest at the All-Star break, then the Lakers should move forward full throttle with the intent of making a playoff run. It’s a worthwhile goal.
But it’s not worth risking James’ health moving forward. This is a lost season in Los Angeles.
Next season still has potential and should be the primary focus of the Lakers moving forward.
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