What I’m Hearing: The Lakers’ season is slipping away and the question of whether or not the team will shut down LeBron James is up in the air. Jeff Zillgitt tells us what he was able to dig up on this matter.
The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t making the playoffs.
Mathematically, they still have a sliver of a chance. But they’re tied for 10th place in the West, 6 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Clippers with only 17 games remaining. It’s not happening.
So, should LeBron James — at age 34 and in his 16th NBA season — shut it down for the rest year? Yes, he already said he’s not going to unless he’s injured. But should he?
USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt, Martin Rogers, AJ Neuharth-Keusch and Matt Eppers address that question in this NBA roundtable.
Note: This roundtable first appeared in our weekly NBA newsletter, which is delivered to inboxes every Wednesday. Want more content like this early and delivered directly each week? Then sign up for NBA Click & Roll, which also features the biggest moments, quotes and news you may have missed from throughout the Association.
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Zillgitt: No. I understand James has many miles on him, and resting his body is important. But it’s not likely he makes the playoffs, so he’ll get two months off (mid-April to mid-June) that he normally plays. Plus, not to be a stickler, but there are NBA rules for resting healthy players – see New Orleans and Anthony Davis – and commissioner Adam Silver has the power to fine teams. So as long as James is healthy, expect him in the lineup most nights. Now, if it’s the final two weeks of the season and the Lakers have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, James might sit. But with five weeks remaining, it’s too early.
Rogers: Not if he wants anything to be different next season. I understand the logic in giving James extra rest and thereby offering his body a head start on rival players who go deep into the postseason. But for a guy who is, justified or otherwise, battling the perception that he has been a poor and unengaged leader for these young Lakers, it would send a horrible message. Even if another star joins the Lakers as a free agent this summer, the inexperienced core still needs to perform more effectively if it wants to contend for a championship. The biggest issue for the likes of Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma isn’t how to play better, it’s how to play better with James. The time to start working on that more purposefully is now, even with the playoffs likely out of reach.
Neuharth-Keusch: As far as his body is concerned, yes he should. As for the optics?Not a chance. The Lakers have a lot to prove over these final few weeks — both to themselves and to potential free agents. Laker Land isn’t exactly the hottest destination in the league right now, and James sitting would only add fuel to the dumpster fire that has been the Lakers’ 2018-19 campaign. If free-agency started today and you’re Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson or any other big-name player set to hit the market, is this really the team you want to join? James getting rest is important, but not as important as doing everything in his power to somewhat salvage this lost season. And that starts on the court.
Eppers: There is perhaps some strategic sense to James sitting. It would mean fewer games of wear and tear on his body, and the Lakers would likely increase their odds of landing a higher pick in the draft lottery, thus potentially giving themselves a better asset to use in their pursuit of Davis. But it would be a terrible look for James and the team. Fairly or not, James has faced questions about his attitude and leadership all season. Shutting it down now with over a month left – even in what increasingly appears to be a lost season – would essentially be a public admission of giving up. Missing the playoffs will be a massive failure for the Lakers. They will face enough questions about their on-court play. As the face of the team, James can’t compound that humiliation by sitting out the final stretch and opening himself up to even more scrutiny.