The big time Forward has been unavailable for the past three weeks to a groin injury sustained in the must see game against Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. Though the Lakers run away with a big win despite losing James in the third quarter, the team had enough momentum to hand the defending champions a beat down.
While news regarding James have been positive with the veteran player’s imminent return, same cannot be said about the team’s play. Thus far, results have been up and down just as predicted for the team with a host of young players at its core spots.
James has returned to practice and videos have emerged of him working out well but the Lakers lost to Cleveland Cavaliers at home and blew a 21 point lead to lose to Houston Rockets. Sandwiched between those jaw dropping losses are big wins over Oklahoma City Thunder and surprisingly good Sacramento Kings.
However, Coach Luke Walton is feeling the heat for trying to win games with the sports universally accepted best player, coaching young players with fewer than four seasons experience in the league and dealing with a rash of injuries. Lonzo Ball became the latest Laker set to be out for a sustained period after hurting his ankle against the Rockets.
Rajon Rondo is still attending to his broken hand too. The Lakers first run with its newest franchise piece has been an unfolding piece of drama President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson has thrown more twists into with some eye brow raising statements. With LeBron James, a big time Hall of Fame inductee and a still promising young player with a larger than life father against the Hollywood backdrop in the mix, the popcorn just had to be ready.
Ranked ninth in the Western Conference, the Lakers after securing four wins in the last ten games ahead of a big game against Golden State, talk of pushing LeBron James back into play has been given some serious thought. On the contrary, keeping James away from games for a little longer is the way to go for Lakers since the team’s title chances doesn’t hinge on the ongoing season.
Walton’s team has been setup to create enough room for a big name purchase via trade or free agency next season to line up with James and possibly Kyle Kuzma in the starting unit. Keeping the aging James till the All Star Game on February 18 should give him enough rest to fully recover from the injury and refreshed for another heavy workload for a high postseason seed.
Having the former Cleveland Cavaliers star on the roster, means an end to Lakers five year playoffless run and an outside chance of sneaking into the Western Conference Finals. Conversely, the team’s top brass know very well the current setup isn’t talented enough or deep enough to win the team’s 17th title. As such, rushing James back to salvage a season meant as a showcase to attract top talent for a sustained title push in the upcoming seasons would be wrong irrespective of the injury situation presently.
The Lakers are eyeing Anthony Lakers of the New Orleans Pelicans for a trade but the Pelicans have strongly indicated a desire to keep Davis around until he declines a mega contract extension once the season concludes. Keeping James fresh for a big assault on the postseason gives Lakers leverage in the trade market since tradable assets-Kuzma, Lonzo, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart- would have playoff experience on their CV’s making them more desirable for a potential deal for Davis.
If there is a major lesson to take from DeMarcus Cousins remarkable production on his return from an Achilles injury, it has to be the immense benefits of taking it slow with recuperating players. Cousins dropped 14 points in 15 minutes of play on his Warriors debut which is a small sample but is in sharp contrast to the kind of production Wesley Matthews delivered for Dallas Mavericks in his first season on his return from the same injury.
Matthews sustained the injury as a Portland Trailblazers player after the All Star break but played in the next season’s opening game. On the other hand, Cousins sustained his injury around the same period but missed three months of league games before his comeback. LeBron James has been pretty much indestructible in his in his 16 year career but at 34, giving him a lengthy recovery period in a transition year should be the Lakers top priority.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter