The opening night of the season was the last time the Lakers didn’t have a single name on their injury report. Since then, LeBron James has been listed on it every game. For their second and third games of the year, James was listed as “probable” to play with what the team was simply calling a “sore left ankle.” By their fourth game, James had been downgraded to “questionable” with a “left ankle sprain,” the designation he’s had every game since then.
As those who watch the Lakers frequently will note, however, James has suited up for every game, and his play has been anything but “questionable.” He’s actually had quite a bit of pep in his step, and is averaging 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.2 assists while shooting 49.3% from the field.
So why has he still been on the injury report every game since the opener? Lakers head coach Frank Vogel provided a bit of clarity on that on Friday.
“LeBron has some mild soreness in his ankle but he’s plenty health to play, so we’ll continue to have him on the injury report as long as there is some of that soreness,” Vogel said.
Another possible reason for the Lakers doing so? The NBA has begun to crack down on teams’ inconsistent injury reporting over the last few years, culminating in the league fining then-Clippers head coach Doc Rivers $50,000 for saying that Kawhi Leonard “feels great” while the team listed him on the injury report.
Since then, teams around the league have been a lot more consistent on making sure that their injury reporting is thorough, transparent and consistent. The Lakers listing James with this also allows them to more easily sit him for pseudo load management in the future, because they can document that he’s been dealing with an injury and that’s why he’s sitting out, rather than the rest just being an out-of-the-blue thing.
There is also the reality that at 36 years old and coming off of such a short turnaround since their title, the Lakers and James seem a lot more open to load managing him than they have been previously. And it’s not just James. The whole team is still not where they want to be physically, although Vogel said he’s still happy with where they’re at, considering everything.
“I think we still have a long way to go in terms of getting our legs under us, and getting our conditioning where we want it to be. But I do want to credit our medical team and the coaches that have been doing the workouts for just making the best of a difficult situation in the offseason,” Vogel said. “They’ve handled the ramp-up pretty well and got these guys playing at a pretty high level.”
That level is only going to continue to go up as the season goes along. Just expect to hear about every single bump or bruise James and the rest of the Lakers are dealing with until then, and for the team to be careful about all of it, whether James and his teammates actually sit out or not.