Since LeBron James activated his playoff mode on February 21st, the Lakers have won two of the last nine and pretty much eliminated all chances of qualifying for the Western Conference playoffs.
Yahoo! Sports' Chris Haynes reported that the lack of “playoff-mode activation” Thursday that the Lakers are reportedly going to deactivate James by putting him on a "cool-down" — which translates to minutes restrictions and potentially sitting out on some back-to-backs. This conversation happened after the Clippers loss last Monday, in which Kyle Kuzma and James had what I’ll call a “defensive disagreement.”
It’s a move that makes sense for both Los Angeles and LeBron.
LeBron has played significantly more basketball than anyone breathing since he broke into the league in 2003, with his long playoff runs and a streak of Eastern Conference Championships he compiled in Miami and Cleveland.
The Lakers received the longest contract commitment from James since his first stint in Cleveland. It's pretty logical for the team to rest the best asset in the organization, while simultaneously increasing its lottery odds by tanking.
This "load management," to borrow from the Toronto Raptors with Kawhi Leonard, is the smartest strategy for both parties to undertake. It gives the young guys the opportunity to show they can finish a season professionally and be a part of the expected Lakers re-tool for the rest of LeBron’s contract.
So, why were the New Orleans Pelicans ripped for essentially attempting to do the same thing?
Once Anthony Davis publicly requested a trade, and that trade didn’t materialize, AD should have been shut down for the rest of the year. The Pelicans need to protect its most valuable asset. But the NBA threatened the Pelicans with fines, and now AD is playing hopscotch in and out of lineups in an effort to both protect their asset and assuage the NBA's concerns that’s playing out in a very public and weird soap opera.
The only difference that I see is that the Pelicans want to preserve an asset to trade him, and the Lakers want to preserve an asset to keep him. Also, ironically enough, the Lakers have the incentive to make their first round pick as close to the bottom of the lottery as possible — to sweeten the offer they will inevitably offer the Pelicans for Davis.
Forcing the Pelicans to play Davis is against the best interest of the team, but in the best interest of the NBA. Fans want to see stars play.
If the NBA allows the Lakers to shut down James, however, it would be both in the best interest of the team and the league as a whole. The Lakers are going to attempt to be big players this offseason. Showcasing the roster-controlled talent that could be potential trade chips while simultaneously raising the value of their first-round pick will give them a better opportunity to do so, improving the chances another superstar can pair with LeBron.
I understand the league allowed JR Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Chandler Parsons to go home, and I understand why the league wouldn’t afford the Pelicans the same right — although I disagree with the latter. But if the argument is “we owe our fans the opportunity to see our stars”, I hope Los Angeles is held to the same standard New Orleans has been.
Either way, it’s a shame the NBA is in a state where two of the top seven players in the league aren’t playing the season through to the finish line.
The first revolution is when you change your mind about how you look at things, and see there might be another way to look at it that you have not been shown.