After days of examinations from doctors, the Lakers announced on Thursday that LeBron James had been diagnosed with a right foot tendon injury. He will be re-evaluated in approximately three weeks, which falls in line with many of the reports in recent days.
LeBron suffered the injury on Sunday against the Mavericks.
Medical update on @KingJames, via the team:
LeBron James has been evaluated by Lakers team physicians and medical staff, and it has been determined that he has sustained a right foot tendon injury. LeBron will be reevaluated in approximately three weeks.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 2, 2023
This is going to put the Lakers and LeBron very much up against the clock before the end of the season. Three weeks from Thursday means LeBron will miss the next 10 games for the Lakers at a minimum.
At best, that would make him available for the final nine games, but that’s only if he’s re-evaluated, cleared to return and does return all at the same time. Realistically, he’s likely going to be out longer than that, which is going to quickly put the team up against the end of the schedule.
Latest on LeBron James. Lakers handle LeBron with a bit more wiggle room than other players & foot/ankle injuries can vary significantly depending on response so timeline could be more nebulous than usual. Better indicator will be his activity level. #Lakers https://t.co/LbhyuoHPxm
— Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT (@3cbPerformance) March 2, 2023
If, for example, he’s re-evaluated in three weeks and needs another week of ramping up before returning, then there will be only six games left in the season. And if the Lakers aren’t in the playoff race at that point, chalk it up as LeBron’s season being over.
It’s not a particularly optimistic outlook and diagnosis for the Lakers, who are still winning and competing in his absence. Doing it for a couple of games and doing it for the better part of a month, though, are very different things.
Prior to Thursday’s announcement from the Lakers, some more details began leaking out about LeBron’s status that adds some more context to the situation.
First, on Wednesday’s episode of “Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective” podcast, Windhorst opened the show talking about LeBron. While he didn’t disclose what the injury was, he did clarify that it was a tissue injury.
“I’ve heard what the injury is but it’s not confirmed so I don’t want to say for sure and then it be attributed to me and not be 100% right but I’ve heard, basically, it’s not a sprained ankle. It’s a tissue injury and there’s nothing you can do. You can’t play on it, you just have to let it heal.”
That goes hand-in-hand with the diagnosis given by the Lakers on Thursday. There isn’t a way to speed up the rehab process, though it does sound like an injury where the return timetable is relative depending on the person.
On Thursday, Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report reported on his podcast, “#thisleague Uncut,” that the injury is one that LeBron could theoretically play through and it’s more of a pain management issue.
“So what I can say on LeBron is that sources did inform me that he will not require surgery. That’s good news… Right now it’s all about time and the rehabbing process… Could LeBron get out there and play right now? It’d be a risk, but I think he probably could if he necessarily had to. But it’s too much of a risk. It’s too much pain right now. The plan right now is to get him as much time to heal for this rehab process, but the Lakers have got to win. They’ve got to keep winning. They’ve got to buy him time.”
That could mean the return date is more relative again. If LeBron feels he can play and the Lakers are on the brink of making the playoffs, would he tough it out and try to help the team to a win? Would a less than 100% LeBron that can’t move effectively, as was the case on Sunday against Dallas, be an asset?
All told, this isn’t great news for the Lakers. It feels reminiscent of the 2020-21 season when it came down to the literal final games of the season before LeBron returned and, even then, he was far, far below 100%.
It’s déjà vu all over again, and not in any sort of fun way.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.