Down goes the King. For the first time since April 12, 2017, LeBron James will miss a basketball game. After suffering an injury to his groin on Christmas Day against the Warriors, the Lakers’ star is listed as day-to-day and is expected to miss a few games, according to ESPN.
What does this mean for LeBron James and his future? More importantly, how will the Los Angeles Lakers handle the injury to their star player? Keep in mind that the Lakers are currently 5th in the Western Conference. Because the race is so tight, a few losses in a row could knock them back in the standings and possibly out of playoff contention.
Here are four takeaways from LeBron James’ injury and how it will impact the rest of the team.
1. The King is Mortal
Contrary to popular belief, LeBron James is a human being after all. One of the most underrated aspects of LeBron’s legacy is his ability to stay on the court. The best ability is availability and no one is more available for his team than LeBron. LeBron has played in 94% of possible games in his career and has never missed a playoff game. LeBron has suffered small injuries to his back and ankles, but this is the first time that he has injured his groin. Although the injury could have been much worse, it’s still a strain to his groin so the Lakers are expected to take his rehab very seriously. The worst thing that they could do is rush him back to the court and put his health in jeopardy.
2. It’s Time for the Kids to Grow Up
LeBron’s importance to the Lakers cannot be understated. In his 16h season at age 33, LeBron is averaging 27.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 7.1 assists. Those are MVP level numbers. There is no debate that LeBron is the leader and catalyst of the Lakers. However, James is set to miss a few games, so it’s time for the young guns to grow up and step up. The Lakers passed their first test on Christmas Day as the team not only held on to beat the Warriors without LeBron in the second half, but they blew out the defending champs in their own building. Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Rajon Rondo, and Lance Stephenson all scored in double digits to propel the Lakers to a 127-101 victory. Going forward, it’s now or never for Kuzma, Ingram, Hart, and Lonzo Ball. This is their chance to show the rest of the NBA that they can carry the load for Los Angeles while the King is out.
3. Playoff Position Could Take a Hit
Although listed as day-to-day, the Lakers are going to be cautious and patient with LeBron. There is no reason to rush him back since it’s only December and the season is 82 games long. That being said, the Western Conference playoff race is extremely tight. The difference in wins between the first place team and the fifteenth place team is five. The saying “every game matters” is as relevant as ever in the West. As of December 28, the Lakers are fifth in the Western Conference with a record of 20-15. The Lakers passed their first test by beating Golden State, but test two did not go so well as the Sacramento Kings knocked off the Lakers 117-116 on a buzzer beater from Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Lakers were one missed shot away from winning on the road against a tough Sacramento team. The trio of Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball combined for 75 points. Things will not become any easier for the Lakers as their next three opponents – Clippers, Kings, and Thunder – are all in playoff contention. If the Lakers go 0-3, it’s very probable that the team will fall out of the top 8. There’s still a lot of games left, but winning without LeBron is of the utmost importance.
4. Time to Show Off the Lakers’ Assets
Imagine you own a car dealership, and you’re trying to sell one of your cars. What are you going to do? You’re going to vacuum it out and make the inside spotless. You’re going to wash and wax the car so that it’s super shiny. You want to show it off to the public, you put it in the front of your dealership for everyone to see. Now, imagine that car was the Lakers roster. It’s no secret that the Lakers want to acquire a superstar to pair with LeBron James. Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant are the first names that come to mind as they are both free agents this summer. However, just because the duo are free agents does not mean they will sign with LA. The player that is generating the most noise to LA is Anthony Davis.
The recruitment for the rights to Davis has begun as LeBron had dinner with AD after the Lakers faced the Pelicans game in Los Angeles last week. If you were to start a team today from scratch, Anthony Davis might be the number one pick. The 6-10 forward is averaging 28.1 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists this season. His ability to handle the ball and make plays for his size is so unique that he’s a matchup nightmare. Pair him with LeBron James and the Lakers are cooking with gas. However, Davis is under contract until 2020. Davis is going nowhere this season, but the dominos are ready to fall if Davis denies the supermax extension this summer. If that happens, trade talks for Davis will intensify, and the Lakers will be chomping at the bit to acquire the superstar.
Back to the car dealership. If a trade is the only way to bring Davis to Los Angeles, then the Lakers have to show off their cars aka their young talent. Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Lonzo Ball are all young, rising players with star potential. Without LeBron James in the lineup, it’s time to showcase what these four players can do and see if they are capable of leading a franchise. Against the Kings, Kuzma, Ingram, and Ball combined for 75 of the Lakers 116 points, so they’re off to a solid start. If the Lakers can package 2 of those 4 players along with a few draft picks, then it might be enough for New Orleans to send Davis to Los Angeles. A good showing from this core, while LeBron is out, can go a long way when trade talks begin this summer.