LOS ANGELES — LeBron James will be held out of the Los Angeles Lakers’ final six games of the season to aid in the recovery of his strained groin, the team announced Saturday.
“After consulting with our team doctors and medical staff, we have decided to hold LeBron out of games for the remainder of the season,” read a statement from Lakers president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka. “This decision will allow his groin to fully heal, and is best for the future success of both LeBron and the Lakers.”
James finishes the season averaging 27.4 points (tied for fifth in the league), 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists (third) in 55 games. The Lakers failed to qualify for the playoffs for a franchise record sixth-straight season, snapping James’ personal streaks of 13 straight playoff appearances and 8 straight NBA Finals berths.
James suffered a slight tear in his left groin on Christmas Day, causing him to miss 17 straight games. At the time of the injury — the most significant one of James’ 16-year career — L.A. was 20-14, good enough for the fourth best record in the Western Conference.
As of Saturday, the Lakers are 34-42 – 11th in the West.
The Lakers finished 28-27 in games James played in during his inaugural campaign in Los Angeles, the first of a four-year, $153.3 million deal signed in the offseason.
James, 34, told ESPN earlier this month that he had no plans to shut down for the remainder of the season, even though the Lakers’ hopes of a playoff spot were dim at the time.
“That would take a lot of convincing from Luke [Walton] on up,” James told ESPN, referring to the Lakers coach as well as, most likely, everyone from Pelinka, to Johnson, to Lakers owner Jeanie Buss. “Unless I’m hurt, I’m not sitting games.”
The 55 games are the least amount of games that James has played in his career – including the lockout-shortened 66-game 2011-12 season.
While James played in 21 of the Lakers’ 25 games since initially returning from his groin injury Jan. 31 in an overtime win over the LA Clippers, a source close to the four-time MVP said James was “masking” a lot of the discomfort the injury was still causing him.
When James initially hurt his groin against the Golden State Warriors, he told team medical personnel he “heard a pop.” He was initially considered day to day and tweeted that he “dodged a bullet” after a preliminary MRI.
However the day to day recovery timeline became 1-2 weeks, and 1-2 weeks eventually became five full weeks without basketball — after a slight tear in the groin was discovered. James, according to sources, rehabbed 4-to-5 hours per day through strength and agility exercises while he was sidelined and even took naps in oxygen chambers to try to aid in the recovery process.
One physical therapist James worked with, Dr. Karen Joubert, shared on Instagram last week that the injury could have sidelined the Lakers star six months and he pushed to return to the court within six weeks. “Unselfishly, he endured pain, pain, pain,” she wrote. “He did not want to let the Lakers down, the fans down.”
James, after his first game back against the Clippers, admitted how taxing the time was.
“You’ve got to understand I’ve never been injured before like that,” he said. “The most I’ve ever sat out was two weeks, I broke my wrist back in high school as a junior. I didn’t come here to sit on the bench, I love clothes, I love suits but I didn’t come here to but on a suit every day. I came here to put on a jersey and some shorts. That’s what I came here to do and lead a team the best way I know how so that’s the frustration part when you see your team struggle. You know how much you can help them but you can’t do anything in a suit and tie so you know that’s where the negativity starts to creep into the mind.”
The Lakers said James will accompany the team on its final road trip of the season through New Orleans and Oklahoma City.