LOS ANGELES — LeBron James’ first season with the Los Angeles Lakers is over.
James will sit out the final six games of the Lakers’ sixth consecutive losing season, the team announced Saturday. In a statement, President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka claimed the decision will provide James with a head start on offseason healing for a three-month-old groin strain, the first significant injury of his career.
“After consulting with our team doctors and medical staff, we have decided to hold LeBron out of games for the remainder of the season,” the statement said. “This decision will allow his groin to fully heal, and is best for the future success of both LeBron and the Lakers.”
James is the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer at 27.4 points per game, and he averaged 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists in his first season on the West Coast. He will accompany the Lakers on their upcoming trip to New Orleans and Oklahoma City, but the 16-year NBA veteran won’t play again in his first non-playoff season since 2005, his second year in the league.
James appeared in the past eight NBA Finals with Miami and Cleveland, but he will finish this year playing in a career-low 55 games and a career-low 35.2 minutes per game for the Lakers. Despite James’ ballyhooed arrival along with Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee to lead the Lakers’ talented young core, Los Angeles failed to overcome several major injuries and a midseason crisis of team confidence when the Lakers attempted to land superstar Anthony Davis in a multi-player trade.
“It’s challenging, but I kind of knew what I was getting myself into,” James said earlier this month.
Los Angeles is 34-42 after beating Charlotte 129-115 on Friday night, with James scoring 27 points in what turned out to be his final appearance.
The Lakers have won three of four since being eliminated from playoff contention last week with a loss to Brooklyn, their 10th in 11 games and their 28th in 42 games since Christmas.
Los Angeles entered Saturday’s games with the NBA’s 10th-worst record. While a strong finish to the season could be a boost for the future, it could also damage the Lakers’ hopes of landing an elite talent in the draft.
“We picked a hell of a time to have a great rhythm,” James said after the Lakers beat the Hornets. “We’re having fun. We’re playing the way we wanted to play all year, but obviously because of injuries, multiple lineup changes and things of that nature, that would affect it. But we’ve kind of known who’s going to be in the lineup over these last few games, and it’s allowed us to have our rotations down, and guys have been playing well.”
Although James’ first season with Los Angeles was a failure, it showed promise before injuries changed everything.
The Lakers were 20-14 and in fourth place in the Western Conference when James strained his groin during a stunning 26-point road victory over Golden State on Christmas. He sat out their next 17 games in the longest injury absence of his career.
James returned to the lineup for good in early February, but the injury-plagued Lakers were unable to recover and make the playoffs.
Along with James, the Lakers are finishing the season without three key players in their young core. Brandon Ingram has been out since March 2 due to a blood clotting issue, while Lonzo Ball hasn’t played since Jan. 19 because of an ankle injury, and Josh Hart was ruled out for the season this week with a knee injury.
“I haven’t been a part of a season with this ton of injuries to all our key guys, to big, big key guys,” James said earlier this month. “It’s just the way the season has been. We’ve had guys step up ... but for us, we prided ourselves on our depth to start the season, and obviously our depth has dwindled.”
Earlier this season, the 34-year-old James expressed ambivalence about the possibility of shutting himself down early, saying such a decision would clash with his natural competitiveness. He also said he felt fresh after the least-busy season of his adult life.
But Johnson and Pelinka apparently persuaded James of the wisdom of an early wrap to a lost year, followed by a fresh start in the fall.
Overall, the Lakers went 28-27 with James in their lineup.