The Los Angeles Lakers are 5.5 games back of the eighth seed, and while they aren’t eliminated from playoff contention yet, it sounds like they’ve reached the point — or at least are getting close to it — where LeBron James will talk to head coach Luke Walton about how much he continues to play in what appears to be a lost campaign with 18 games remaining.
After the Lakers’ most recent loss to the LA Clippers, a defeat that is likely the final nail in the coffin of their playoff dreams, James was asked if he would start to play a bit less now that the team was all but out of the hunt. He said it will depend on what he and Walton decide (via Spectrum Sportsnet):
“That’s a conversation that’ll probably be had between me and Luke going forward. I don’t know what the mathematic (odds are), what’s going on with the postseason (and) things of the nature. I feel like this was definitely a game that we needed tonight, for obvious reasons. They’re a team we were chasing.
“We didn’t take care of business. You look at the rest of the games, and look at the percentages of what’s going on here in the future, and see what makes more sense.”
Given that James is in the first year of a three-year deal with a player option for a fourth season, and that he’s 34 years old and coming off of the first major injury of his career with the team’s playoff hopes essentially out of reach, it would actually make some sense to shut James down. It doesn’t sound like he’s interested in that idea, though, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
“That would take a lot of convincing from Luke [Walton] on up,” James told ESPN, referring to the Lakers coach as well as, most likely, everyone from general manager Rob Pelinka, to president Magic Johnson, to governor Jeanie Buss. “Unless I’m hurt, I’m not sitting games.”
James not wanting people who paid to see him to not get that chance is admirable, but even if the Lakers don’t put James in bubble wrap until next fall, it would make sense to play him less the rest of the way..
James has averaged the lowest minutes of his career this season (35.5), but has averaged 39.2 over the last ten games as the team made one final push for the playoffs. With those odds all but dead, it makes sense that James and Walton will talk about how much they can take off of James’ shoulders as they cruise towards a longer-than-expected offseason, because if the Lakers can’t keep James mostly healthy for the remainder of his contract, this era could get ugly enough to make this season seem fun by comparison.
Precaution would be best for all involved here, even if it’s understandable that James doesn’t want to completely sit out. We’ll see if he, Walton and the Lakers can find a middle ground.
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