As the Los Angeles Lakers started to fall out of Western Conference playoff contention in March, LeBron James maintained he would continue playing if he was healthy.
Taking into account the 17 consecutive games James missed due to a groin strain, his mindset was understandable as it was the most he had missed in his 16-year career.
While James was put on a minutes restriction and did not play in the second game of back-to-back situations, there were questions if he would be shut down after the Lakers were officially eliminated from playoff contention by the Brooklyn Nets.
James played three more games, but head coach Luke Walton shared the Lakers convinced him to not play the remainder of the 2018-19 NBA season, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
“He wants to play,” Walton said ahead of the Lakers’ 130-102 road win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. “But it’s one of those things where the medical staff just finally said, ‘Look, it’s just not worth it anymore. Let’s make sure you have a healthy summer.’ So that’s the decision that was made, and we’ll move forward without him on the floor for the final six.”
As the Lakers have won four out of their last five games since being eliminated from the playoffs, Walton was asked why the decision was not made earlier:
“Well, I think that goes back to him wanting to compete,” Walton said. “Even though it’s over, he wants to be out there playing with his guys. Eventually, as that time goes on and on, it’s easier to tell someone like that, ‘Let’s take care of your health right now.’ So that’s kind of how the decision came.”
Although James is in extremely unfamiliar territory, an extended offseason bodes well for him. Coming off a significant injury, the 34-year-old has sixth months to refresh his mind and body in hopes of putting together a historical 17th season.
And for the Lakers, the ideal situation is to improve their 2019 NBA Draft Lottery odds. However, the reality is they have veterans on one-year deals and South Bay Lakers who are playing for their next deals.