Roughly 30 games into the season, the Los Angeles Lakers started to look like they were figuring things out after a slow start. Then, their season was derailed by injuries — most notably the injury All-Star forward LeBron James suffered against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day.
Since then, the Lakers have struggled to even resemble a playoff-caliber team, going 17-30 since Dec. 25 while posting the seventh-worst net rating in the NBA. Meanwhile, the injuries haven’t stop piling up, as Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball were officially shut down in early March, followed by Josh Hart a few weeks later.
When looking back at the Lakers’ disappointing season, James told Allie Clifton of Spectrum SportsNet that his Christmas Day injury upsets him the most:
“For me personally it was a disappointment, because I hold myself to such a high standard. I’m disappointed in my body and the way it reacted on Dec. 25. I just know what I came here to do, and that’s to put this franchise in a position to play meaningful basketball games from April going into May. And at that point on Dec. 25, the way I lead and the way I preach, it was right on target. It was right where I was thinking we should be at that very moment, playing some really good basketball, going up against the two-time defending champion Golden State in Golden State, on Christmas and going into the New Year I felt like this is exactly where I want this team to be, and that we were going to continue to go up and up and up. Then the third quarter happens, I’m on a routine fast break, Draymond kind of gets his hand on the ball, I lose it a little bit and I tear my groin. I don’t think our team would even be comfortable with me being out five and a half weeks, to add on to Rajon getting hurt in the same game and also being out five and a half weeks. So now you take the two masterminds that we brought here to help lead these young guys off the floor for 11 weeks collectively, that’s a disappointment for me. Because I knew exactly who we were at that point and we’ve just never been able to get back.”
At the time, the Lakers were tied for the fourth seed in the Western Conference with a 20-14 record and had a top-10 defense. When James went down, though, the Lakers went 6-11 and fell to the 11th seed, where they’ve stuck around since.
“It frustrated me, because I’m going to the games and sitting on the bench, and you can lead a little bit from the bench… But like being in the foxhole, me being in the uniform, me being on the floor. I know I can command my guys more than that. You can only say so much in a suit, as a player. Me being out five and a half weeks and watching the games and knowing ‘I could have made an impact on that play’ … We were just losing against teams I felt we could have competed against more. Who knows if we win or lose, but I know what I can do for this franchise and do for this team, so I’m basically trying to speed up my body to get back on the floor, but also my mind is kind of shot because I want to be out there for my guys.”
If James could redo the season over, he said he would take his time coming back from injury:
“I think I would have just tried to be a little more patient. I still rushed my body. It was my first major injury I’ve had in my life, and I felt I could rush, rush, rush to get back… As soon as I felt OK, I needed to put a uniform on. Because I wanted to get this team to the postseason, I wanted to be out on the floor. Even if it was at the expense of re-injuring myself. That was just my mindset.”
While James did put up superstar numbers upon returning to the court, it was clear he wasn’t completely healthy and it’s tough to say whether we ever saw James at 100 percent at any point of the season. That’s both disappointing and terrifying.
At 34 years old, James shouldn’t be as good as he is and leading a team, but he is, and order for him to maintain his unreal level of play, he needs to be as healthy as possible. Luckily, James will have the most time he’s had since his sophomore season to work his way back to full strength and get ready for next season.