The Los Angeles Lakers are officially waiving the white flag. After a not-so-hard-fought late-season playoff push, the Lakers are reportedly planning on limiting how much LeBron James sees the floor for the remainder of the season.
According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the front office, James and his camp have agreed to limit his minutes going forward:
“I was told now that the Lakers are out of playoff contention, that there was a conversation between LeBron James’ trainer and the front office and they came to the conclusion that, moving forward, LeBron James will play somewhere of a minutes restrictions of 28 to 32 minutes and, possibly, on back-to-backs. Depending on how LeBron James feels, he might sit out on of those back-to-backs.
“I was also told that the front office spoke with his agent, Rich Paul, explaining the scenario with him. Everybody understood, everybody’s in agreement.”
Since the All-Star break, James has averaged a team-high 38.6 minutes per game, which is also the fourth-most minutes per game any player has averaged since the All-Star break. James has been effective with those minutes, averaging 28.6 points, 8.5 assists, 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, but with playoffs almost certainly out of the question this season, it makes sense for him to play less.
Does this mean the Lakers are tanking? Not necessarily.
After all, 28 to 32 minutes per game is still a good amount of playing time, but it does mean that they’ve likely accepted that playoffs aren’t in the cards for them this season. With that being the case, there is no longer a desperation to win game and, coincidentally, no longer a need to play James heavy minutes.
The leftover playing time will likely be allocated to the players that haven’t gotten a ton of run this season, including rookies Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga as well as two-way players Alex Caruso and Jonathan Williams. There’s also a possibility some of that expendable playing time is used to take a flyer on a free agent. Remember, the Lakers still have an open roster spot they can use to call someone up from the G League.
Regardless of where the extra minutes go, the Lakers are wise to take them away from James, not because he’s not good, but because it’s probably in their best interest to have him on the bench.
As it stands, the Lakers are just a game back from having a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft. No, that pick might not get them a shot at Zion Williamson, but it could be seen as a valuable asset on the trade market this summer. After all, ”top-10” pick sounds better than “lottery pick” on paper.
Again, I’m not saying the Lakers are tanking, I’m just saying they wouldn’t be wrong to. If tanking is wrong, I don’t want to be right.