- The Lakers season is winding down and it looks like LeBron James will miss the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade. The Open Floor podcast prepares you for life without The King in these year's NBA playoffs.
It's become clear that LeBron James will not be in the NBA playoff mix this postseason, as the Lakers have placed him on a minutes restriction and have decided he will no longer play back-to-back games. With that reality staring us down, the Open Floor podcast crew decided to take on the topic. Andrew Sharp and The Washington Post's Ben Golliver discuss the absence of LeBron, how The King should spend his summer and more.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Ben Golliver: I was just doing some reading over the weekend and I came across a nice piece from Marc Stein from The New York Times. It was about LeBron James and how he is almost certainly not going to be in this year's postseason, and it really seemed like Marc was trying to let down the casual fans of America. Just to be like, 'Hey guys, just FYI, I know you're probably not following this train wreck of a Lakers season. You probably weren't agonizing over LeBron James throwing the ball off the back of the backboard in the third quarter of a Saturday night loss to the Phoenix Suns in Phoenix of all places. But just to be clear that two-month block of your life every single year which gets dominated by LeBron James on-court play, podium performances, storylines, all the other intrigue that goes around the playoffs, it's just not going to be happening this year.'
Andrew Sharp: He's basically preparing them emotionally for the reality that's about to hit in like a month from now.
Golliver: Yeah, it's like, your life, if you are a casual fan about basketball, is going to suck in May and June and you're probably not going to be watching the games. That's sort of where I thought he was politely and gently trying to go. And, Andrew, I think his point is so well taken, but it's way worse for guys like us and our listeners. I'm not sure that we have fully comprehended how rough these playoffs are going to be on a day in, day out basis without LeBron James because we're just so used to having him. I don't know if you remember, last year I wrote a piece about what would have happened if LeBron never existed. He always used to say, 'Oh, I'm just a statistic. I easily could've not made it out of Akron.' So I did the exercise of imagining he's just not around. Guys like Roy Hibbert come out looking great in that exercise, right? The forgotten soldiers of the Eastern Conference who just got steamrolled by LeBron James for the last eight years all of a sudden are really elevated in a way that we would not be prepared for.
But I want you to really think about this, Andrew. Coming up in the next two months, the podiums in the Eastern Conference are going to be dominated by Giannis, who is still in that early-career KD stage where he doesn't want to say anything interesting; Kawhi Leonard, who would staple his mouth shut if he could; Kyrie Irving, who is in open war with the media; Joel Embiid, who is actually pretty good; And then the Pacers, and they're going to be drawing straws to see who goes up to the podium because the casual fans aren't even going to know who any of their players are. That is, from a content perspective, an absolute nightmare. Joel Embiid better be hiring an entire team of comedy writers to get his material together. The Sixers better make it out of the first round of the playoffs; otherwise we're going to have nothing to talk about.
On the court the big storylines from last year: LeBron coming back and dominating the Pacers, LeBron completely punking the Raptors. I mean that was just like two solid weeks of A-plus content there, and then him pulling off a miracle against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. There are storylines for sure. You know I'm more excited about Giannis and the Bucks than anyone in this galaxy right now, but really put yourself there, Andrew. Try to fast-forward your life to May and June. Can you see how bleak and dark it might get when I'm sort of running through these possibilities for what we're staring at?
Sharp: Well, here's the thing. It's pretty bleak and dark right now. It seems like half the NBA is miserable, the other half is sort of going through the motions, either tanking or flat lining their way to the finish line. The Blazers and the Raptors are the only teams that seem to be playing well right now. The Bucks have been the gold standard for regular season dominance all year long so that story has continued as well. But in general, if you gave me the chance to fast-forward to May and June, I'm taking that 10 times out of 10 regardless of whether LeBron is going to be there. I will say, hearing you talk about the podium possibilities and rubbing your hands together, getting ready to be on your nightly duty tracking the press conferences. That too makes me very excited for the playoffs.
Golliver: Andrew, you're trying to talk yourself into some things that you're not really realizing. You think you're going to be waiting to see what clips I come up with from the Brooklyn Nets-Toronto Raptors postgame or the Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers Game 3 recap.
Sharp: I believe in you, man. That's the point. I think that you will be able to find some fire, whatever happens in the playoffs. It's true that imagining Reggie Jackson on the podium is a little bit dark and hard to get excited about. Full disclosure, you had mentioned the possibility of starting the podcast with five minutes of coverage on the battle for the eight seed with the Hornets and the Magic and pretended to give a spirited debate.
Golliver: Andrew, this is what I mean about the LeBron vacuum effect. We could pretty much write the Lakers out of this Western Conference eight seed. So let's stumble around in the dark for other stories to replace the big LeBron vacuum that's going to be there. Here we go. Should we get into the Orlando Magic or the Charlotte Hornets? Which team needs that eight seed more? Which one would be a greater symbolic victory? Do we crown Steve Clifford as a Coach of the Year candidate if he gets his team into that eighth seed? What kind of a validation, Andrew, do you think this would provide for a player like Nikola Vucevic, who's been working his entire career for this moment? Or Kemba Walker...
Sharp: OK, should we carve out some time to talk about the valor of Terrence Ross and D.J. Augustin? Let's say Jonathan Isaac is another guy who has played really well, and that's about all I have to say about the Magic.
Golliver: That was impressive. You named three Magic players. That's more than you've named all season long, but don't even get me started about Kemba Walker. What a crowning achievement to host All-Star Weekend, to start in the All-Star Game and to carry single-handedly the Hornets to the eight seed and a first-round sweep in the first round. Would just be an unbelievable thing. These are the depths that we're going to have to get into, Andrew, without LeBron. This isn't even a joke. We're going to have to have these kinds of conversations because the Lakers let us down.
Here's another way to look at this: what will LeBron do for those two months of his life when he's usually locked in doing the Zero Dark 23 and all that other nonsense? If you're LeBron, and this is a serious question because this guy is the face of a multi-million dollar media empire striving for a billion, do you just go dark for two months as soon as the Lakers are eliminated? Give no interviews like you gave no interviews during the injury? You certainly don't show up courtside with Bill Russell and watch the games, do you? That would be kind of awkward. Maybe you can tie it into some former teammate? Maybe he does to some Celtics game and pretends to cheer for Kyrie? Do you just focus on the television shows and just keep bringing Anthony Davis back on for more editions of The Shop until he finally ends up being a member of the Los Angeles Lakers? What do you do here?
Sharp: I do not need more editions of The Shop, and I do kind of hope he lays low for the two months that the Lakers are outside the spotlight. I hope he disappears because over the last month or so, and I've always worried about this with LeBron, him turning into basketball's Brett Favre is a possibility and almost an inevitability. It seems like we're already there, and I hope he recognizes that risk and decides to say, 'Alright, this season did not go as planned, I'm going to lay low and regroup and show up in July and try to make this thing work.' God knows what kind of tampering will be going on behind the scenes, but that's the way I would play it as LeBron. Operate in the shadows.