The year was 2005. No one had an iPhone. No one had tweeted. Facebook wasn’t part of the mainstream.
And it was the last time the NBA playoffs didn’t have LeBron James.
The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t mathematically eliminated from postseason consideration yet, but it’s only a matter of time. For the first time in 14 years, the postseason will begin without James — and for the first time in nine years, the NBA Finals will be played without him.
It will be a very long offseason for James.
It is not what he envisioned, either.
“It’s challenging,” James said of the current state of the Lakers. “But I kind of knew what I was getting myself into.”
That’s not entirely true. He knew it would be difficult but he couldn’t have foreseen anything like this, since the only other losing season of his life came when he was a rookie in 2003-04.
Thing is, he doesn’t possibly know what comes next. No one does. The offseason will see roster change, top free agents to play alongside James will be pursued hard by Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson, and it will not be a surprise if the Lakers decide Luke Walton isn’t the right coach anymore.
But the key for the 2019-20 Lakers — obviously — is going to be James. The grind of eight straight runs to the NBA Finals is over. He’s about to get six months off to rest, recover, reset, heal, think, plot, prepare. It’s been a long time since that happened, and at this point in his career it might be precisely what he needs.
“Rest is going to help,” said Miami guard Dwyane Wade, one of James’ closest friends. “I think the biggest thing with him is probably mental, the mental break from it. Physically, obviously, he’s getting older but he’s still very good at this game. Look at his numbers. They’re still very good. But he’s been going at it for a long time, so to get away from it and kind of look at it from a different lens, it’ll definitely help.”
It has been proven that setbacks inspire James.