Health doesn’t appear to be in the cards for the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers. Anthony Davis had just returned from a 17-game absence due to a sprained MCL. He was back in the lineup last Tuesday and the Lakers defeated the Brooklyn Nets — sans Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden — 106-96. The very next game, LeBron James was not in the lineup for the Lakers’ 105-85 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
James has missed the Lakers last three games, all losses. He returned to Los Angeles prior to their Sunday 129-121 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Lakers coach Frank Vogel told the media on Sunday that an MRI revealed “general swelling” in his left knee. James will not be back in the lineup until the swelling subsides.
One game. That’s all the Lakers got with their two stars in the lineup. Early in the season they were without James for eight consecutive games. They went 3-5 during that span, but when James returned to the lineup, things began to look up for the Lakers. He would go on tomiss a few more games but they went 7-5 in the games in which he played. Then Davis went out of the lineup for more than a month with an MCL sprain.
James played MVP-level basketball during the 17 games that Davis missed. He averaged 32.5 points per game and 5.8 assists and 9.3 rebounds on 53.4 percent shooting from the field and 35.3 percent from the 3-point line. However, it wasn’t enough to keep the Lakers’ record from worsening. When Davis left the lineup, they were two games over .500 and upon his return they were two games under.
Any Lakers fans still holding onto hopes of significant improvement once James and Davis can finally stay on the court together for at least an entire month, I would advise you all not to hold your breath. James and Davis have not been in the lineup together for 10 consecutive games since the bubble. The 2020 playoffs were the last time.
Anything is possible with modern medicine and a little bit of luck, but there’s a reason that the Lakers took a wrecking ball to their roster to trade for Russell Westbrook. They recognized they can’t count on their two best players to be on the court consistently during the season. Davis’ injury in the first round last season might have cost the Lakers an upset victory against the eventual Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns, along with James’ lingering high ankle sprain.
The trade deadline is less than two weeks away, but what do the Lakers have that another team would want? A disappointing Westbrook and Talen Horton-Tucker, Carmelo Anthony, Kendrick Nunn (who hasn’t played a second this season), Avery Bradley, Trevor Ariza, rookie Austin Reaves, and a 2027 first-round pick?
Front offices have pulled off many a miracle in roster reconstruction, but this particular roster is about as flexible as an actual basketball court. In all likelihood, the Lakers are stuck with what they have: a roster full of veterans who are past their prime, a handful of young players that are either unproven or their trajectory is headed in the wrong direction, and the problem that they tried so hard to solve at the beginning of season.
Their two best players are in the conversation for best duo in the NBA. The problem, they’re not on the court enough at the same time and there is no indication that will change before the play-in tournament, and maybe even during the NBA playoffs, which is starting to look like a first round series against the Suns or the resurgent Golden State Warriors if they can get through the play-in.
It’s looking like reality for the Lakers is a wasted season with the 37-year-old James under contract, and he is consistently missing games in a way that he never has before. It doesn’t look good in Tinsel Town, because after all the work they did to try and solve their injury problems, they’re in an even worse position than last season.