LeBron James nearing return, but no date set yet

ByOhm Youngmisuk ESPN logo
Tuesday, January 29, 2019

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- As trade speculation swirled around the Los Angeles Lakers because of the Anthony Davis trade request, LeBron James continued to inch his way back to the court by participating in full-court contact drills in practice for the first time since he suffered a groin injury.

A source familiar with James' rehab told ESPN's Dave McMenamin that the Lakers are "hoping" James could return to game action against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday at Staples Center. "Depends on these next couple of days," the source said.

While Luke Walton did not officially rule James out for Tuesday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers head coach said he will continue to prepare as if James will not be available.

"We'll see how he feels tonight, we'll see how he feels tomorrow morning, and we'll just keep taking it day by day and see how he's doing," Walton said Monday after practice. "... We did three-minute scrimmages, so, again, we'll see how his body responds to that, and then from there, we'll take it, as far as making those scrimmages longer or if he says, 'Hey, I feel great. See if I can play.' Then we'll make those adjustments.

"... I'm prepping for tomorrow as if I have the same group I had last game, and obviously, when he's ready to go, then we'll get him back in there."

James hinted on Instagram later Monday that he was getting closer to returning to the court.

Walton said Kyle Kuzma (hip) and Josh Hart (knee tendinitis) did not practice. Their status for the Sixers game will be determined Tuesday.

Kuzma did not play during Sunday's win over Phoenix and has been shut down from basketball activities since he played with limited movement in Thursday's loss to Minnesota. Hart played 17 minutes on Sunday against the Suns but came out in the second half due to the pain in his knee.

Despite the injuries and intensifying trade speculation surrounding the Lakers and Davis -- who requested a trade and made it known that he will not sign a contract extension with New Orleans -- Walton said the team arrived to practice with a "great attitude."

Several of the young Lakers, includingBrandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kuzma and Hart, will have to deal with increasing trade rumors through the Feb. 7 trade deadline as the team continues its pursuit of a superstar to pair with James.

"I control what I can control," Ingram said. "I don't listen to the media, whatever it is. I just play basketball, control what I can control, come on the floor, be the best that I can be and listen to the people in my circle."

"It feels [more serious] on the outside of what's in this gym," Ingram said when asked if the trade deadline looms larger than it did last year. "I think you look on social network and look on everything else, you have all these stories of this player, this player, this player. But no one in this room or the players or the coaches or the general manager doesn't say a word about it. So like I said, we only listen to the important people in this building."

When asked about Davis' requesting a trade and his thoughts if the Lakers were to land Davis, Ingram replied, "That'll be good for the Lakers -- or whatever team that gets him."

"He's a really, really good player, and any team that gets him will be happy to have him," he added.

The Lakers will be ecstatic when James is able to return. The sight of James drilling several 3-pointers and working on shooting 3s while dribbling off screens from deep range is encouraging for the injury-ravaged Lakers. James even threw some one-handed, full-court shots from the baseline to the opposite basket.

Walton said there hasn't been any discussion yet of a minutes restriction for James, who has missed 16 games since injuring his groin on Christmas Day against Golden State.

"We did a short practice, but we got up and down today," Walton said of what James was able to do and if he needs to go through a full practice before returning. "We did a couple three-minute scrimmages. Did our defensive drills. Our defensive games. Competed in the half court on that. Yeah, ideally, we'd like to get him full practice, but the NBA season, everything is not always ideal. But he does continue to do more and continues to look better."

Related Video