How LeBron James’ Injury Is Affecting the Lakers

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Written by Sandy Grayson

The signing of LeBron James over the summer brought new hope to the Los Angeles Lakers. As reported here back in July, The King signed a four-year $154 million-deal with the Purple and Gold. That meant he was taking over a talented but extremely young core led by Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart.

After a slow start in which the Lakers lost 4 of their first 10 games, LeBron finally galvanized his team. The Lakers won 15 of their next 23 games, and were at 19-14 coming into a marquee Christmas day match-up with the two-time defending champions Golden State Warriors. The Purple and Gold won that game, climbing to a season-high 6 games over .500. But they lost their leader, as LeBron strained his left groin in the rout.
LeBron injures his groin

LeBron’s strained groin forced him to miss 17 games. The Lakers went 6-11 in those games, and have gone from being top 6 in the Western Conference to being out of the postseason picture. Worse, the Lakers are still struggling, even with LeBron back. Post-All-Star break losses to the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies have exacerbated the situation, much to the ire of the three-time Finals MVP. The frustrated LeBron couldn’t help but call out his teammates, questioning their mental fortitude and ability to get the job done in games that matter.

Obviously, the Lakers’ core sans LeBron aren’t world-beaters just yet. In other words, The King isn’t getting the type of help Kevin Durant is getting; neither does he have the deep supporting cast of Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, or Kyrie Irving. That’s a problem, of course, and a big one at that. But LeBron’s injury is apparently still a problem, too. Stephen Smith suggests LeBron doesn’t look like himself, and that, according to the analyst, is likely due to him not being 100% healthy. Smith goes as far as saying that the three-time champion is the Lakers’ biggest problem, as he has been a liability on the defensive end. 

Smith’s assessment seems right on the money. LeBron, despite saying that he has activated his “playoff” mode, looks nothing like the old, dominant force of nature that ran roughshod in the Eastern Conference. Keep in mind that this is the greatest player in the world today, and is second only to the great Michael Jordan. LeBron is a four-time MVP, one who led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a title in 2016 against the mighty, record-setting Warriors (sans Durant at that time). Suffice to say, he is fully capable of turning around a franchise. That was happening early in the season, with an uninjured King James leading the young Lakers to one big win after another. One groin injury later and things have gone south for the iconic franchise. All hope is not lost, though, for the Purple and Gold. A Sports Illustrated piece on the Lakers argues that the team have hit rock bottom; nevertheless, they still have a shot at making the playoffs — possibly as an eight seed. That, of course, will be contingent on the Lakers winning more games moving forward, and the Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs losing their fair share. 

But for the Lakers to start playing well once more, they’ll need playoff LeBron to be like the playoff LeBron of old — aggressive, dominant, unforgiving. Then again, that’ll depend on The King getting completely healthy, or at least close to full health. Otherwise, this season which was full of promise will end in disappointment.

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