Lakers reportedly 'concerned about' LeBron James' groin: How hard should they push him?

All is not well in Lakers land at the All-Star break in the aftermath of failed Anthony Davis trade talks and a 28-29 start to the season for Los Angeles.

Concerns about LeBron James‘ health can be added to the list.

According to The Athletic, the team is ‘a little concerned’ that James hasn’t fully recovered from the groin injury he suffered on Christmas that sidelined him for several weeks.

From Joe Vardon:

The Lakers are privately a little concerned about LeBron. Is he fully healed from the groin strain that cost him a career-worst 18 games? Is he going to pick up his intensity and propel this team back into the playoffs, as he did last year in Cleveland? James, 34, is actually averaging a triple double for the Lakers since his return from injury (23.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, 11.0 assists), but he’s just not moving at the same speed nor is he engaging at the point of attack. 

Injury concern shouldn’t be taken lightly at James’ age

Much like Tom Brady, the decline of James’ game has been predicted unsuccessfully on many occasions. But also like Brady, James is assuredly on the back end of his prime, and an injury concern like this one warrants attention.

Of James’ many remarkable assets as a basketball player, one of his most valuable is his availability. As Vardon noted, James had never missed 18 games with a single injury in his career. The most games he’s missed in a single season was 20 in 2011-12. He’s played 74 or more games out of 82 in 11 of his 13 complete NBA seasons.

That the Lakers are concerned that the 34-year-old James who just suffered the most significant injury of his career isn’t back at full force makes sense.

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EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers poses for a portrait during media day at UCLA Health Training Center on September 24, 2018 in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
September 24, 2018; El Segundo, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James before speaking to media at UCLA Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
PORTLAND, OR - OCTOBER 18: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first quarter of their game at Moda Center on October 18, 2018 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks the basketball against Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets on October 25, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James celebrates with fans after scoring during the overtime period of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Spurs won 143-142. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) grabs a rebound over Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Houston Rockets' Chris Paul, second from left, is held back by Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, left, as Paul fights with Lakers' Rajon Rondo, center obscured, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won, 124-115. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 22: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers misses a last second shot in front of Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs to lose 143-142 in overtime at Staples Center on October 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 24: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 24, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Lakers defeated the Suns 131-113. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks the basketball against Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets on October 25, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 10: LeBron James #23 and Lance Stephenson #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate after James made a shot against the Golden State Warriors and was fouled during their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on October 10, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 30: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles reacts during a preseason game against the Denver Nuggets at Valley View Casino Center on September 30, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 02: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers attempts a shot in front of Torrey Craig #3 of the Denver Nuggets during a preseason game at Staples Center on October 2, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR - OCTOBER 18: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first quarter of their game at Moda Center on October 18, 2018 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks the basketball against Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets on October 25, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers scores a basket and gets fouled by Mo Bamba #5 of the Orlando Magic during the first half at Staples Center on November 25, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 14: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to his missed shot as he is fouled during the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on November 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - FEBRUARY 07: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers, center, is picked up by LeBron James #23 and Kyle Kuzma #0 after scoring the game winning basket against the Boston Celtics during the fourth quarter at TD Garden on February 07, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Lakers defeat the Celtics 129-128. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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What should the Lakers do?

Now comes the question of how they should manage that concern.

After failing to add Davis or another difference-making piece before the deadline, the Lakers are playing for little more than pride for the rest of the season. This team is clearly not going to compete for a championship.

But that pride factor can’t be underestimated.

James has made the playoffs in every season since his second in the league. If his celebrated arrival in Los Angeles ends outside the playoffs, this season will be considered a massive failure. The pressure on Magic Johnson to make blockbuster moves this offseason will be even more intense.

And just think of the reaction from all of the Kobe-stans who scoffed at James being the next great Laker before he adorned the purple and gold.

What would missing playoffs mean?

But that disaster would be primarily in terms of perception. In practical terms, missing the playoffs wouldn’t make much difference from a likely first-round exit at the hands of one of the West’s powers.

Right now, the Lakers are in 10th place in the West, three games behind the 32-27 Clippers for the final playoff spot.

Caution is prudent

So if the Lakers are genuinely concerned about James’ health, then proceeding cautiously is the correct answer. This project is not about this season.

It’s most assuredly about next season and the season after that.

If James is good to go after some rest at the All-Star break, then the Lakers should move forward full throttle with the intent of making a playoff run. It’s a worthwhile goal.

But it’s not worth risking James’ health moving forward. This is a lost season in Los Angeles.

Next season still has potential and should be the primary focus of the Lakers moving forward.

(H/T @ NBC Sports)

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