The clock is ticking for LeBron James.
While it may not seem like it, the 36-year-old four-time NBA champion is certainly in the twilight of his career and no season should be taken for granted. That's what made the Los Angeles Lakers' decision not to trade for Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline so strange. It was as if they were hedging, unwilling to fully commit to this year's team with an eye turned to a James-less future led in part by Talen Horton-Tucker. Now, having fallen 4-2 to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs, that decision certainly looks like a mistake.
On trade deadline day, the Lakers were 28-16, fourth in the Western Conference and 4.5 games behind the Utah Jazz for the top seed in the conference. They'd lost James and Anthony Davis to injury and were on amid what would become a four-game losing.
There's, of course, nothing Lowry could have done to help Davis avoid injury. The 28-year-old Davis was unable to go in Game 5 because of a groin strain and then was limited to just five minutes in Game 6 before leaving early. His injury was the death knell for the Lakers against a young and talented Suns team. However, Lowry certainly could have helped L.A. down the stretch of the regular season, likely avoiding the play-in tournament and the Suns altogether.
After the deadline, the Lakers went 14-14. While Lowry didn't play very much after the deadline, that was more of an organizational decision than an injury-related one. It was clear in Lowry's last game, ironically a 37-point, 11-assist performance to beat the Lakers, just how much of a difference-maker he still is.
Had the Lakers just flipped the outcome of that game, a 121-114 loss to the Raptors, Los Angeles would have been the fifth seed in the Western Conference and poised for a date with either the Denver Nuggets or the Los Angeles Clippers, who seemed to do everything in their power to avoid being on the same side of the playoff bracket as the Lakers. While neither team would have been a pushover, a first-round matchup against the Nuggets should have offered James at least a better chance to advance to the second round.
If this was James' last chance at a ring, not moving the 20-year-old Horton-Tucker to Toronto will certainly be a mistake. Maybe Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka already knew the injuries were going to be too tough to overcome. Otherwise, his decision to stand pat at the deadline could have cost James a shot at ring No. 5.