While it sounds more and more like LeBron James will be back this season — including straight from Darvin Ham himself on Sunday — there is no guarantee as to how healthy he’ll be when he does return.
Similar to the 2020-21 season, LeBron returning does not mean he is 100% healthy but also doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be helpful. When LeBron returned from his high ankle sprain in that season, he very clearly wasn’t himself and even had to take some extra time off after initially returning to further heal.
Ultimately, he reached a point where he was healthy enough to be a productive player but clearly was not all the way back to original LeBron. And that could be the level of LeBron the Lakers could be getting this season if he does return.
According to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report on his podcast with longtime NBA reporter Marc Stein, the odds of LeBron being healthy in his return this year are not great.
“I think obviously the goal is for LeBron to return at some point before the season concludes, but what I’m hearing is that still might be a push right there, him returning at some point. I reported a few weeks ago that... the Lakers had to try and do whatever they could to try to win as many games as possible to give LeBron James as much time to recover as possible. So that means that even when he does come back, he might not be fully healthy, but (they are) just trying to buy him some time. With that being said, I don’t know how realistic it is that he returns with some games left in the regular season. That is definitely the goal, LeBron James is shooting for that, I just don’t know how realistic it is right now... Can LeBron come back the final two games of the regular season? ... I think definitely that’s a possibility, but I think it’s still premature as of right now. The way it was explained to me is that might be a push right there.”
On the matter of when and if LeBron will be back this season, on Monday, Dave McMenamin of ESPN reported on NBA Today that LeBron would be re-evaluated this week and is eyeing a return for the postseason at the latest.
.@mcten just said on NBA Today that LeBron will likely be re-evaluated by the Lakers on Thursday, and that he overheard LeBron telling an arena worker that he would be back for the "playoffs, for sure" as he walked out of the arena last night— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) March 20, 2023
The margins are so thin in this year’s playoff race that the Lakers can use even a less-than-100% LeBron to help them win games. Nothing about it is ideal, but the Lakers don’t really have time to worry about things being ideal or not.
If how he played against Dallas is an indication of what he can still do even while injured, then it proves he can be effective. He’s the type of player that can make plays and be impactful even at less than 100% and with the team having much more depth, it’s not a requirement that he be relied as heavily upon as in previous years.
Just getting LeBron back would be a huge boost for this team mentally as much as anything else. From there, the Lakers can adjust as needed...assuming he comes back this season.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.