This was already a lost season for LeBron James, and agreeing to a minutes restriction confirms he has thrown in the towel.
The Los Angeles Lakers were once a top-four seed in the Western Conference, then LeBron James missed 18 games with a groin injury. Anthony Davis trade speculation created a distraction, and during All-Star Weekend James talked about shifting into “playoff mode.”
The Lakers are 2-6 since that declaration, with a fourth straight loss Wednesday night as James passed Michael Jordan for fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Even with dwindling and virtually non-existent playoff odds, James has resisted the idea of being shut down for the season. But earlier this week, he seemed open to being put on a minutes limit in consultation with coach Luke Walton.
After playing at least 40 minutes in each of the previous two games, James played just 31 minutes in the 16-point loss to the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night. The Lakers now sit closer to second-to-last in the West than to the No. 8 seed, at 30-35, so James will indeed be put on a minutes restriction from here on out.
According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports, James will play 28-32 minutes a game over the final 17 games and may sit out half of the three remaining back-to-backs the Lakers have.
No one thought the Lakers were going to compete for a championship this year, the first of a multi-year process with James as the face. Early in the season it looked like they could be dangerous in the playoffs, but injuries (to James and Lonzo Ball most notably) and the ongoing stuff that comes with James’ presence proved to be too much to overcome.
James also hasn’t been 100 percent since returning to action, as his groin remains an issue. So taking effort to preserve his health, and reducing risk of any further or additional injury as a lost season winds down, was too obvious not to happen. Now the Lakers can actively try to lose, for better lottery odds and a higher draft pick in an effort to add a second star.