LeBron James will not be with the Los Angeles Lakers when they hop on a plane to Salt Lake City, Utah ahead of their matchup with the Jazz on Friday, head coach Luke Walton announced at shootaround on Wednesday. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t play.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, Walton “did not rule out the possibility of James traveling to Utah on his own Friday for the Jazz game” if he’s medically cleared to play when he gets reevaluated on Friday morning.
This could mean that Walton and the training staff believe that James is close to being ready and that they’re just using Friday’s re-evaluation as a precautionary measure.
On the other hand, it could mean nothing.
As nice as it would be to have James back in time for the Lakers’ matchup with the Jazz — who have fought their way back into the Western Conference playoff picture — there’s a small chance he actually plays on Friday considering how cautious the training staff has been with players both this season and their entire tenure with the organization
It’s even more unlikely James plays because, historically speaking, Walton requires his players to get at least one practice in before returning to the court. Granted, we’ve never seen his policy with a player of James’ caliber, but it’s hard to imagine him changing his stance even if the Lakers lose their next two games.
In the event all of that holds true, the soonest James would be able to return is on Sunday, when the Lakers host the Cleveland Cavaliers for their second meeting of the season.
Depending on how well the Lakers look leading up to that game, James might even get the night off then too.