The Lakers are 4-7 without LeBron James, have fallen back to a tie or the final playoff slot in the West, and have had some ugly losses (to Cleveland at home was the worst of the season). In Los Angeles — a city that was talking itself into “with LeBron we could reach the conference finals and then…” — the fanbase is increasingly frustrated and restless watching its young stars struggle.
When is LeBron going to be back to right the ship?
The Lakers announced that LeBron is not traveling with the team on an upcoming two-game road trip but has been cleared to return to practice next week.
LeBron’s agent and friend Rich Paul of Klutch Sports told Dave McMenamin of ESPN on Tuesday night that LeBron would miss the upcoming two games. The next game after that is Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. day, against the Warriors.
Paul then added some detail in a conversation with Sam Amick of The Athletic. James suffered a grade 2 groin strain that was going to take three-to-six weeks to heal, and while LeBron has improved a lot they are not going to risk re-injury, he’s not playing until he is 100 percent, and no date has been sent, Paul told the Athletic.
“Obviously he cares (about the Lakers’ struggles). The man wants to play. He’s f****** itching to play, but he can’t put himself in that situation. It’s just, you’ve really got to do the right thing and it has zero to do with his age, or the fact that he’s played 16 seasons – nothing to do with that. This is a tendon. It’s not a shoulder, or an ankle, or an elbow. The smart thing to do is to do the smart thing. You can’t allow media, or the fact that the team might be losing, to dictate what’s best for you, and we won’t. He’s progressing. He’s not ready yet.”
That LeBron is returning soon to practice is a good sign, but it could still take a little time. Groins are tricky, they can seem healed in the sense that LeBron wouldn’t feel pain walking or even running in a straight line, but the first explosive lateral move in a game could re-injure the tendon worse than it was the first time. Then he would be out longer.
The conventional wisdom is that when LeBron comes back — giving the Lakers a playmaker in the halfcourt they can trust and a real pecking order — Los Angeles will lock down a playoff spot in the West. That’s probably true. But the Lakers also have the fourth toughest schedule remaining in the NBA — it’s not going to be easy with or without LeBron.
What they can’t do is rush him back before he’s physically ready.
LeBron and his team get that. It doesn’t make it any easier.