- The Los Angeles Lakers are 30-33, 4.5 games out of the playoffs with 19 games to play, and in danger of missing the postseason.
- Some in the NBA world are arguing the Lakers should give up on the season by sitting LeBron James to let him rest while improving their position in the NBA Draft.
- Others have argued against it, saying James should play and that pursuing the playoffs is worthwhile, even if it is a long-shot.
- The Lakers face a crucial week that could decide their season.
The Los Angeles Lakers are running out of time to turn their season around and make the playoffs.
The Lakers are 30-33, 4.5 games back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, with just 19 games left to play. A recent loss to the lowly Phoenix Suns, their fourth loss to a sub-.500 team in their last six games, suggested they are not on the verge of figuring out what ails them.
Now, some in the NBA world are calling for the Lakers to sit LeBron James for what looks like a failed playoff chase.
James, at 34, has not looked like himself since returning from a month-long absence for a groin injury. James rarely goes 100% in the regular season anymore, the result of eight straight Finals trips and a historic workload. But with the Lakers’ situation now calling for a fully engaged James, he seems incapable of putting the team on his shoulders.
With long-shot playoff hopes and a first-round meeting with the Golden State Warriors in store, if they made it, some think it would be smart for the Lakers to let James rest for the remainder of the season and help the positioning of their draft pick in the process.
“Magic Johnson needs to shut LeBron James down,” ESPN analyst and former NBA player Jay Williams said on “Get Up!”
“He needs to take it away from LeBron because LeBron’s pride will want him to play. LeBron is the ultimate competitor. He will want to compete for the eighth spot. But if you’re thinking about long-term, return on investment for LeBron James, who is 34 years old, you have to be able to compartmentalise that if you’re Magic Johnson.”
Read more: The top 30 prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft
Former NBA player Paul Pierce similarly argued on ESPN that the Lakers should sit James, saying they need to “preserve” him for the next three years. Pierce said James has to exert so much effort to get the Lakers to playoff position that it’s not worth it.
On ESPN’s “High Noon,” hosts Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre argued that there is some reasoning behind it, saying that if James is still dealing with a nagging groin injury and playing overweight, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported, then it’s better to shut down James.
Not everyone agrees
Others have argued that sitting James wouldn’t be right.
First, James is being paid to play. That’s one of the simpler arguments for keeping James on the court.
Second, the Lakers did not sign James to miss the playoffs. Failing to make it would be a disaster – giving up on the chase with a quarter of the season left would be worse.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe argued in his column last Friday, before the Lakers loss to the Suns, that one of the most successful teams in NBA history and one of the greatest players in NBA history did not come together to tank. He wrote that the Lakers should be able to jump the young, inexperience Sacramento Kings and “ambivalent” Los Angeles Clippers in the standings.
ESPN’s Jalen Rose also argued that suggesting the Lakers should sit James is flawed thinking. He said there should be a middle ground between being a lottery team and winning a championship. In other words, the Lakers should be happy to make the playoffs, even if it results in a first-round sweep against the Warriors.
The Lakers season could be decided this week. They face the Clippers in a high-stakes regular season game on Tuesday, then play the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets, two playoff teams.
Losing all three – a real possibility – would drop the Lakers to 30-36. They would have to go 12-4 the rest of the season to finish above .500, and 42-40 is unlikely to make the playoffs.
Beating the Clippers on Tuesday will be critical. It would give the Lakers the tiebreaker over the Clippers, while simultaneously hurting the Clippers playoff position.
If the Lakers come up short this week, the arguments for sitting James will grow louder. If that happens, it’s possible James and the Lakers themselves might agree.
- Read more:
- The Lakers’ nightmare scenario suddenly looks more possible than ever
- Dirk Nowitzki is being treated to a farewell tour around the NBA – but he’s never said that he’s retiring
- The top 30 prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft
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