LeBron James hasn’t quite looked like himself since returning from the groin injury that cost him 17 games in December and January. He’s still putting up LeBron-esque numbers — 24.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 10.5 assists, and two steals a night in eight games since returning — but he’s been a little off during that stretch, appearing to lack the explosiveness that has been a hallmark of his game. That doesn’t even begin to include some of the rough moments that have occurred in that time. An example from Monday’s loss to Memphis:
Not great! The general vibe in Los Angeles right now is strange, which makes sense, because the Lakers are falling apart right as the race for the playoffs is heating up. Since James returned, the team has gone 3-6 and find themselves in 10th in the Western Conference, three games behind the eight-seed.
It’s something that Paul Pierce finds curious, to the point that he wonders if it’s worth trotting James out there anymore in 2019. The Boston Celtics legend appeared on ESPN’s The Jump and theorized that James still looks like he’s dealing with his groin injury, saying that it might not be the worst idea for Los Angeles to shut him down and punt on the rest of the year.
“If I were the Lakers, I would shut LeBron down,” Paul Pierce said to the surprise of Rachel Nichols. “No, seriously. He’s getting older, he has to do too much for them to win. Just look at … he puts out a triple-double, and they can’t win. Just imagine if he really goes out and really exerts himself and has to go for 40…”
Nichols then asked Pierce if he’d give up on the year now, to which he said he would, because this season was “a wash” and that they weren’t expected to contend right away, even though Nichols and Tracy McGrady pointed out they were in fourth place in the West before James went down.
“Why am I gonna put more wear and tear on LeBron?” Pierce asked. “I need him for three more years. This window is this short. This window is this short to take advantage of LeBron now. He’s still, to me, I think he’s pretty much still injured.”
Pierce made the argument that it’s better for the Lakers to let James get prepared for next season and get a better draft pick instead of gunning for the 8-seed just to get swept by Golden State. Perhaps this is an idea that will become en vogue if L.A. can’t find its way, especially once Lonzo Ball comes back and we see the team at full strength, but for now, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes they will do this when the postseason is one winning streak away.