Players who return positive or inconclusive test results are required to isolate from their teammates and team facilities. The Lakers didn’t immediately reveal James’s testing status or offer a specific timeline for his return.
“It’s a huge loss,” Coach Frank Vogel said in Sacramento during his pregame news conference. “It’s disappointing. We just want the best for him right now. That’s where our thoughts are. We have a ‘next man up’ mind-set.”
To get back on the court, fully vaccinated players who test positive but are asymptomatic must return two negative tests on separate days or wait 10 days after their positive test. All players who enter the protocols must receive medical clearance from a team and league physician before they can rejoin their teams, and those who exhibit moderate or severe symptoms also must receive a cardiac screening. In addition to Tuesday’s game against Sacramento, the Lakers will face the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, the Boston Celtics on Dec. 7 and the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 9 over the next 10 days.
Vogel said the Lakers found out Tuesday morning that James would need to enter the protocols and arranged for his transportation back to Los Angeles.
“You never know with this,” Vogel said when asked how long he expected to be without his leading scorer. “Hopefully this is something short term. We’ll see.”
James joins a long list of NBA stars to enter the health and safety protocols since March 2020, including Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler and Jayson Tatum. Embiid missed nine games over three weeks in November after his positive test.
The entire Lakers roster, including James, was vaccinated before the season to ensure compliance with local vaccination requirements in Los Angeles. Back in September, James said he chose to get vaccinated “for me and my family” after his initial hesitation over getting the shot. The four-time champion hasn’t participated in the league’s vaccine advocacy efforts.
“We’re talking about individual bodies,” James said at Lakers media day. “We’re not talking about something political, or racism or police brutality. We’re talking about people’s bodies and well-being. I don’t think I personally should get involved in what other people should do for their bodies and livelihoods. … I know what I did for me and my family. I know what some of my friends did for their families. But as far as speaking for everybody and their individualities, and things they want to do, that’s not my job.”
James is averaging 25.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists for the Lakers, who entered Tuesday’s game with an 11-11 record. Los Angeles, pegged as the preseason favorite to win the Western Conference, has gone 7-4 with James and 4-7 without him.
Vogel expressed confidence that the Lakers would be able to manage better without James than they did during his recent eight-game absence with an abdominal injury.
“We’re further along with our cohesiveness now than we were when he first went out,” Vogel said. “This is one of those things that is out of our control. We’ve got a group of guys capable of winning the game tonight, and that’s where our focus is.”