The Los Angeles Lakers woke up Sunday to find themselves as close to fifth place in the NBA’s Western Conference as they were to first place. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the shelf and 32 games left in the season, the organization has to be concerned they won’t find that extra gear that will earn LA the home court in the playoffs when they need it most.
Adding insult to James’ injury, the latest setback is even more costly to the Lakers than casual NBA fans might realize.
The Los Angeles Lakers are hurting, literally
Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis has been sidelined by a calf injury since Feb. 14 and still doesn’t have a definite return date, though getting him back by the end of the month seems possible. The Lakers are 7-7 since losing Davis, who is averaging 22.5 points and 8.4 rebounds.
The predicament grew worse late last week as LeBron James was injured in a loose-ball scramble during a loss to the Atlanta Hawks. James, averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.9 assists, was diagnosed with the dreaded high-ankle sprain that potentially keeps him sidelined for multiple weeks.
The Lakers play Phoenix and New Orleans this week and then head off to a four-game road trip on the East Coast. If that’s the start of a tailspin, then the Lakers will still have time to dig themselves out of a home-court hole – provided their big two return in a timely fashion.
It’s worth remembering that LA is 2-3 in games without James since the start of last season. The Lakers went 9-18 without him in the 2018-19 season, but that was a vastly different team.
LeBron James’ injury is more costly to the Lakers than you might realize
The Los Angeles Lakers will obviously feel the pain in the standings while LeBron James is out. However, they’ll also feel it in their wallet because of the way the NBA handles salaries for injured players.
James was scheduled to make $39,219,565 this season before NBA owners and the players’ union agreed to put 10% of salaries into escrow to reflect the fact that the revenue-share figure will come up short of projections because attendance is still limited by the pandemic.
That takes James’ salary down to $35,297,609, though Spotrac.com projects his actual payout at $36,879,761. Using that figure, the future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee is making $512,219 per game in the season reduced to 72 games from the normal 82 to compensate for the shortened offseason.
That means the Lakers will be paying James more than half a million dollars per game to watch while he recovers from his high ankle sprain.
The NBA’s insurance policy doesn’t help in cases like this
Anyone with a homeowner’s policy or automobile insurance likely is familiar with the concept of deductibles: The first $1,000 of damage from the windstorm that rips the rooftop shingles to shreds or the first $500 of dents from the pickup that backs into a car are the policyholder’s responsibility.
NBA player insurance works the same way. According to the Washington Post, teams are required to insure at least the five largest contracts on their roster with an agency selected by the league. However, teams don’t begin collecting on the policy until the player misses half the season. Upon reaching that threshold, insurance pays 80% of the player’s salary for the remainder of time missed. The liability is capped at an undisclosed figure.
LeBron James doesn’t figure to miss 36 games, so the Lakers aren’t going to be able to collect on the policy.
How much do these policies cost the teams? According to PolicyAdvisor.com, the going rate is 4 to 7%. For a team with five salaries totaling $80 million, that’s anywhere from $3.2 million to $5.6 million per year in premiums.