This is picture of a smiling LeBron James. Beside him is the question: How many times has LeBron James missed the playoffs?

How many times has LeBron James missed the playoffs?

LeBron James has won four NBA Championships and taken some teams with very weak rosters deep into the playoffs. He even led some of those weaker teams all the way to the NBA Finals.

In his prime, he made the playoffs 13 straight years and the Finals seasons in a row. With all that success, you might ask yourself: How many times has LeBron James missed the playoffs? 

As someone who has watched LeBron’s entire career and who has written extensively about it, I have the answer for you.

LeBron James has missed the playoffs only four times in his career. His Cleveland Cavaliers missed the playoffs his first two years in the league. He then made the playoffs every year since with the exception of  2019 and 2021 with the Lakers.

LeBron James Early Years in Cleveland

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With some rare exceptions like the Lakers getting lucky through a trade in 1979 and drafting Magic Johnson first overall, the team with the first pick in the NBA Draft is not very good! 

That is the reason they have the first overall pick: they were bad enough to qualify for the NBA Draft lottery. The NBA weights teams’ chances in the lottery meaning the worst teams have the best chance of getting the top pick. 

In the 2003 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers tied for the worst record in the NBA with 17 wins. They had a 22.5% chance of landing the top pick in the 2003 NBA Draft and they did just that. 

It was in some ways a remarkable story because LeBron James grew up in Ohio. He was one of, if not the, most hyped prospects in the history of the draft. I had watched some of his high school games on ESPN – and this was a time before you saw many draft prospects playing in high school. 

The 2003 Cavs roster was a mess: Ricky Davis was their leading scorer and Zydrunas Ilgauskas was probably the best player. It is no surprise they could not win NBA games. 

That was the team LeBron joined for the 2003-2004 season. The roster did not change too much except for LeBron: Ricky Davis was still there, Zydrunas Ilgauskas was too. They had a young Carlos Boozer and a prime Jeff McInnis, but there still was not much experienced talent. 

It is not a surprise that LeBron could not get that team to the playoffs at age 19. He did help them more than double their win total: they won 35 games but still finished 12 games below .500 and finished 5th in the Central Division. 

The next season, LeBron’s second in the NBA, was the second straight year he did not make the playoffs. The roster still did not change too much from LeBron’s rookie year. 

The Cavs let Ricky Davis go, which was probably addition by subtraction. Davis was a fun scoring machine but did not play winning basketball. They brought in a young Drew Gooden and veteran Eric Snow and it all helped. 

Plus, LeBron had one more year of experience in the league. The team improved to a winning record going 42-40 but did not quite qualify for the playoffs tying for the 8th best record in the East. 

LeBron James Prime Years: In the Playoffs Every Year

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After his first two years where he was just figuring out the league, LeBron James did not miss the playoffs again until he was well past thirty playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. 

From 2006 until 2018, LeBron James made the playoffs every season. You can read extensively about those years here.

LeBron put the Cavs in the playoffs five straight years, then brought Miami to the playoffs four straight years and then  went back to Cleveland and brought them to the playoffs for four more years. 

Not only did LeBron bring those teams to the playoffs, he mostly brought them to the NBA Finals. In 2007 and then again every year from 2011 to 2018, LeBron brought the Heat or the Cavs all the way to the NBA Finals. 

It was one of the most dominant runs in NBA history. You can read more about his Finals record here.  

LeBron on the Lakers: Missing the Playoffs and Winning a Title 

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After his return to Cleveland where he finally got the team a championship, LeBron left Ohio again, this time for Los Angeles. 

LeBron was 34 years old in his first season in Los Angeles in 2018-2019. While he was still one of the very best players in the league, he was no longer able to single handedly drag an inexperienced roster to the NBA Finals like he sometimes did in Cleveland. 

The Lakers were bad the year before LeBron got there, winning only 35 games. They had some young pieces: Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Brandon Ingram. But they were all very inexperienced and just starting to figure out the NBA game.

LeBron joined the team for the 2018-2019 season and the roster did not change much. The team still had some good young names, but inexperience was still a huge factor. 

LeBron helped them a little: the team improved to 37 wins but it was the third season in his career that LeBron James missed the playoffs. 

The next year the team brought in Anthony Davis and a few other veterans and won the NBA Finals in the bubble at Disney World caused by the pandemic.

The Lakers once again made the playoffs in 2020-2021 but fell in the first round to the Phoenix Suns who went on to the Finals. 

The next year, 2021-2022 was the fourth season where LeBron missed the playoffs. The roster was in flux and the team, foolishly in hindsight, brought in Russell Westbrook. It did not work. 

In addition to the troubled roster, James and Davis both missed nearly half the season with injuries. The team won only 33 games and finished 11th in the Western conference. 

Summary: How many times has LeBron James missed the playoffs? 

Like another all-time great Michael Jordan, LeBron James made the playoffs throughout the prime of his career. He missed the playoffs his first two years in the league when his Cleveland Cavaliers had weak rosters. Then, after that prime when he made the playoffs 13 straight years, LeBron has missed the playoffs twice more towards the end of his career playing for the Lakers. 

Featured Image Photo Credit: Adapted from LeBron James by Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

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