After Monday's 113-105 loss to the LA Clippers, it seems increasingly likely the Lakers will miss the playoffs for a sixth straight season. It's a fate James hasn't felt since his second NBA season, and he has expressed nothing but disgust about it every time he has been asked.
The Lakers treated him as they would any of the superstars who have donned the purple and gold; but the organization, its fans and the players didn't know him. They only knew of what he had done for Cleveland and Miami. He had equity where he'd won championships.
"I haven't been a part of a season with this (amount) of injuries to our key guys," James said. "It's just the way the season has been."
It's hard to remember how good the Lakers and James looked before he tore his groin at the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day and the wheels fell off. When the season is over and sober evaluations start taking place, perhaps that will factor into the decisions on how to move forward.
But right now, it all feels like a series of missteps and misfortunes that everyone shares some blame in.
There was the failed pursuit of Anthony Davis that left half the players on the roster questioning whether James, the Lakers' front office or both still wanted them. That was a self-inflicted blow the team never seemed to recover from.
There were injuries to Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball that kept them out for huge chunks of time, nagging injuries to Tyson Chandler, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart, and trades for Mike Muscala and Reggie Bullock (long-awaited shooters!) that have yet to pay any real dividends.
The Lakers went 6-12 in the 18 games James missed. Since he has come back, they haven't been much better, and now they have lost nine of their past 12 games. James is still getting back into top shape after the most serious injury of his career, and it has manifested itself especially on the defensive end of the floor.
Through Christmas, the Lakers had a defensive rating of 104.5 when James was on the floor. Since Christmas, the Lakers have a defensive rating of 111.9 when James is on the floor.
Since his return from injury, the Lakers have a defensive rating of 109.6 when James is on the floor in four wins; the Lakers have a defensive rating of 113.1 when James is on the floor in the eight losses.
It might not have been a strictly basketball decision for James to join the Lakers. But basketball is still his core business, and a failure like this doesn't sit well. That's the downside of committing as fully as the Lakers do to a star system.
"We're in a win-or-loss league," James said. "And that's what it's all about. We've had positive. We've had a lot of negative, obviously as far as our play. But at the end of the day, we're in a result league. Results is how many wins you can accumulate throughout the course of the season, so you take the good with the bad and you just keep pushing forward."
While the failures can't be placed on any one person, James, Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka will have to answer for a lot of it. Head coach Luke Walton could lose his job over it. Most of the roster wasn't going to be back next year anyway, given the team's insistence on signing players to only one-year contracts to preserve salary-cap space for a second star this summer. But you have to assume even larger-scale roster changes will be implemented given the disappointment of this season.