1:08 AM ET

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Los Angeles Lakers‘ preseason debut Sunday in San Diego against the Denver Nuggets could be missing one key piece: LeBron James.

James and Lakers coach Luke Walton will huddle Friday, sources told ESPN, to determine if the 33-year-old embarking on his 16th NBA season, will suit up for the opener in L.A.’s six-game exhibition slate.

“I don’t know,” James told ESPN after practice Wednesday when asked about how he plans to manage the preseason schedule. “I don’t need preseason games [at this stage of my career] to get ready.”

Luke Walton is trumpeting what he sees as a big piece of what LeBron James brings to the Lakers’ table: For the first time since Kobe Bryant retired in 2016, they have a clutch superstar to close out games.

Indeed, James played in only one preseason game at the outset of the 2017-18 season while he rehabbed an ankle injury and went on to play all 82 games in the regular season for the Cleveland Cavaliers — a first in his career.

After the Cavs’ 2016 championship, James played in only three preseason games the following fall. And when he

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