With a loss to the Brooklyn Nets in the 72nd game of the 2018-19 NBA season, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
As the Lakers extended their playoff drought to six seasons, it also marked the first time James has not made it since the 2004-05 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Moreover, it snaps his streak of NBA Finals appearances at eight.
With 10 games to improve their odds in the 2019 NBA Draft lottery, shutting James down for the remainder of the season has been a topic of discussion lately.
After the 34-year-old slipped in the fourth quarter against the Nets, head coach Luke Walton was asked if it becomes a real possibility now under the circumstances. “We’ve got to see how he feels after the fall that he took,” Walton said.
“We’ll be cautious with him and all of our guys; more so now than earlier in the season. But we won’t even get into that until [Saturday] when we see how he feels. And then Sunday, we’ll kind of come up with a game plan.”
As for James, he intends to have a discussion with Walton and his trainer but wants to finish out his first season in Los Angeles.
“I mean, obviously with us being officially eliminated, I’ll probably have a conversation with the coaching staff and my trainer, and go from there,” James said.
“But I love to hoop. [Expletive], I’ll have five months to not be able to play the game. So hopefully I can be in as many games as possible down the stretch.”
With James missing 20 games due to a groin strain and load management, it is not surprising that he still wants to play in a lost season. However, it may benefit James and the Lakers if he has five months to refresh his mind and body for his 17th season.
When healthy, James and the young core showed they were capable of being competitive in the Western Conference. Now, it is up to Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka to properly construct a roster with a lottery pick and significant salary cap space this offseason.