Since the All-Star Break wrapped up, the struggling Los Angeles Lakers have lost games against lower-seeded teams like the New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, and most recently, the Phoenix Suns — whose 13-51 record is still the worst in the NBA. While the 30-33 Lakers are still 10th in the West and four-and-a-half games behind the No. 8-ranked San Antonio Spurs, the team’s chances of making the playoffs seem to be evaporating with every upset loss and every report of alleged poor on- and off-court chemistry. As such, ESPN analyst Jay Williams believes it might be high time to shut superstar forward LeBron James down for the rest of the 2018-19 campaign.
Speaking on Monday morning’s edition of ESPN’s Get Up!, Williams opined that the Lakers have reached the point where team president Earvin “Magic” Johnson “needs to shut [James] down.” As quoted by The Sporting News, Williams said that Johnson will have to take action, despite the strong probability that the four-time NBA MVP will want to stay on the court in an effort to help the Lakers compete for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
“If you’re thinking about long-term return on investment for LeBron James, who is 34-years-old, you have to be able to compartmentalize that if you’re Magic Johnson, and say, ‘OK, LeBron, sit down, I don’t need you to get injured… sit down, get healthy,'” Williams continued.
As further explained by Williams, there could be other benefits to asking James to sit out the rest of the 2018-19 season, such as giving the Lakers’ younger players a chance to shine and — in the event they may be offered to other teams in the 2019 offseason — a chance to improve their stock in the trade market.
In addition, Williams joined several other league observers in predicting that Lakers head coach Luke Walton could be fired at the end of the season.
“Hey, Luke Walton, you’re going to be the next coach of UCLA, [so] let’s start looking forward to who our next head coach is going to be and start really paying attention to who we’re going to trade for in the offseason.”
Although it is theoretically possible that LeBron James could be benched by the Los Angeles Lakers for the team’s last 19 games, The Sporting News pointed out that such actions could earn some rebukes from the NBA’s top officials. The publication cited the example of the New Orleans Pelicans, who were ordered to play superstar big man Anthony Davis instead of having him sit out the season in the aftermath of his controversial trade request.
Williams’ comments about possibly shutting James down came shortly after ESPN updated its Basketball Power Index (BPI) for the Lakers, in the aftermath of Saturday’s loss to the Suns. Currently, the team has a mere 0.9 percent chance of making the postseason, which could mean James will be missing the playoffs for the first time since his 2004-05 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.