"You still gon' play. Think about the years when Kobe Bryant and those guys wasn't playing well. Kobe still was out there. He still was hooping, still was ballin'. You're cheating the fans. Maybe you can give him limited minutes to where he's only playing 25 to 30 minutes or whatever the case may be, but you can't just say, 'I'm shutting him down because we didn't exceed expectations.' Hell no.
"That's a sucker way out. He gotta play."
The TMZ reporter then asked Butler his opinion on whether Lakers head coach Luke Walter should be fired following this season. Butler was a little more reserved in his response, simply saying, "You never know. Anything can happen. I'm saying, when you don't reach the success you're supposed to reach, s--t, anybody can go."
Butler noted that his "anybody" even included James when a team is losing the way the Lakers are.
Butler played with the Lakers for the 2004-05 season alongside both Bryant and Walton. The Lakers finished 34-48, so Butler has experience to back up his opinions.
Heading into Wednesday night's game against the Denver Nuggets, L.A. owns a 30-34 record—good for just 11th in the Western Conference and 5.5 games out of the playoff picture with 18 games to go.
It would be one thing if this mostly young Lakers squad was only losing to superior competition such as the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks, as it did on March 1, but the Lakers can't seem to beat teams they should be beating on paper.
Since James returned from missing 17 games on Jan. 31 because of a groin injury, L.A. is 5-9 with losses against the NBA-worst Phoenix Suns and 22-43 Atlanta Hawks.
The injury bug is one justification for the Lakers to sit several players, not just James, for the remainder of the season. Point guard Lonzo Ball has been out of commission since Jan. 19 with a Grade 3 ankle sprain, and after rolling an ankle Monday night against the L.A. Clippers, forward Kyle Kuzma is day-to-day.
In a video captured by Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times earlier Wednesday, James likened how rough this season has been for the Lakers' young guys—Ball, Kuzma, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram—to his own experience of not making the playoffs his first two NBA seasons:
When James is in the mix, as he said, expectations soar astronomically to unfair territory. The focus moving forward for the Lakers should not be to make the postseason this year but to ensure that their young core channels this experience so the 2018-19 season wasn't in vain.