Last season, LeBron James wanted whoever created the play-in concept to be fired — and now it could be his only chance to avoid missing the playoffs for the fourth time in his career.
The Lakers (29-40) are 2.5 games from falling out of a play-in spot with 13 left to play — and 5.5 games back from an 8-seed that would require a double-elimination gauntlet to qualify.
The Lakers formed a Big Three with a combined 35 All-Star appearances, but Wednesday’s 20-point loss against the Timberwolves might’ve been a tipping point for a team that’s 0-9 since the All-Star break when LeBron doesn’t score 50-plus points.
- It’s the third consecutive time the Lakers trailed by 25 points — and the first time James has ever trailed by 25 in three straight.
- The last time LeBron finished 11+ games below .500 was his rookie season (2003-04).
- If the Lakers finish as a 9- or 10-seed, they’ll have to win two straight games — which they haven’t done since Jan. 7.
Between the disappointment and his desire for a fifth ring, LeBron could potentially ask for a trade — his contract doesn’t include a no-trade clause, and he’s owed $44 million next year.
If the Lakers don’t move him, he can walk for nothing in the summer of 2023.
While LeBron is also eligible for a two-year, $97 million extension this offseason, the Pelicans own the Lakers’ draft picks, and they’re financially strapped next season ($129M for James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis).