When LeBron James signed a four-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, most predicted playing in the Western Conference would snap his streak of NBA Finals appearances at eight in a row. With each passing day, James inches closer to not so much as qualifying for the playoffs.
Monday’s loss to the L.A. Clippers dropped the Lakers to 5.5 games back of the eighth-place San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers have just 18 games remaining this season, which doesn’t make for great odds of the franchise snapping a five-year playoff drought.
In seven games since the All-Star break, James is averaging 39.7 minutes. The Lakers are just 2-5 in those contests.
Considering his long-term commitment to the organization, it stands to reason the Lakers are quickly approaching a point where James should be scaled back, if not shut down for the season.
Though, sitting games is not something the 16-year veteran is keen on, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
“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.”
“That conversation hasn’t occurred, but I’m sure it can happen soon,” James told ESPN.
Although James appears against being shut down, he’s open to potentially reducing his minutes. “That’s a conversation that will probably be had between me and Luke,” James began.
“Going forward, I don’t know the mathematics as far as the postseason and things of that nature. I felt this was definitely a game that we needed, for obvious reasons. They’re a team that we’re chasing. We didn’t take care of business.
“You kind of look at the the rest of the games and the percentages of what’s going on here in the future, and see what makes more sense for not only me but the team itself as well.”
The Lakers didn’t expect to be in this position when they signed James, but each loss pushes them closer to obtaining a lottery pick. Whether that would be used to add another young talent to the roster in a potential trade — perhaps for Anthony Davis — can be sorted out at a later time.
If the Lakers do miss the playoffs, it will mark just a third such instance in James’ career and the first time since his second season. He isn’t certain how such a development may impact the team.
“For me personally, I can speak for myself, I can’t speak for everybody else, continue to be a professional and be as great as you can be every single night no matter the circumstances. Someone is always watching,” James said of remaining focused through the remainder of the season.
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