In a matter of 24 hours, LeBron James has passed Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and reportedly was given a minutes restriction by the Los Angeles Lakers, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports. The report also indicates LeBron “likely won’t play back-to-backs.”
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) March 7, 2019
With the Lakers seated 11th in the Western Conference standings, right next to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are also 30-35, it appears Los Angeles has given up on the season.
When James took his talents to Hollywood, his supporting cast seemed suspect. But with James in town, it seemed they were a lock for the postseason. He’s LeBron James. He may lose in the Finals more than he’d like, but he never misses on the postseason.
This underwhelming season can mean one of three things. One, James has lost a step—maybe a slight one, but not that much. Two, the rest of the team is far worse than initially anticipated—possible, given James wanted to dish half of them away at the deadline. Last but not least, the Western Conference is far better than most may realize.
It’s no secret the West is better than the East, despite the latter continuing to make improvements across the board. But a James-led team struggling to make the playoffs, never mind not making the playoffs, seems impossible.
Whether it was with the Cavaliers or the Heat, James making the playoffs was a foregone conclusion. His dominance was overpowering. Even on nights where he didn’t play his best, he was still the primary focus on defense, make life easier for his supporting cast. If this Lakers roster was an Eastern Conference team, they’d still be in the playoffs.
Now, that doesn’t mean the NBA champions will continue to come from the West—though it’s hard to imagine the Golden State Warriors not winning, again. With the conference being tough from top to bottom, the teams beat up on each other from start to finish. But that’s beside the point.
The point is, even James—the greatest player of this generation of players—isn’t a lock out West. So, as much as the NBA is a star-driven league on the court, as well as off it, one player, no matter who it is, cannot do it alone in an adequately balanced conference.
Also worth noting, this does appear to be a form of tanking. The Lakers could still make the playoffs, though it’s not likely, now behind the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers by 6.5 games with 17 to go. While a team’s goal should always be to win, this is far from the same thing that everyone else is doing.