LeBron James seemed amused at the idea.
Thursday morning after shootaround, he was asked how Lakers coach Luke Walton and he would go about managing his playing time in order to keep him fresh for late in the season. At 33, with James entering his 16th year, the Lakers want him at his best when the games matter most.
“I’m always fresh,” James said, smiling. “All my coaches want to figure out a way of how to lessen my minutes, I keep telling them I’m strong enough to play most minutes, but they won’t listen to me, so it’s OK. I like it.”
Last season James led the NBA in minutes played. He played in all 82 games for the first time in his career and averaged 36.9 minutes per game.
Walton said James playing all 82 games isn’t out of the question this year. But ever since the Lakers signed James, their front office has talked about preserving his legs and allowing him to do less than he’s had to in the past.
“Rest with me is always kind of, you’ve gotta take it as it comes, see how the season’s going, get to those tough stretches,” Walton said. “Are there nagging injuries happening or not and that’s when you would do it. We’re not gonna just rest somebody just to rest them. Only if the body or mind needs it, in my opinion. … We’re gonna try to keep his minutes at a reasonable number.”
But just as James doesn’t see a need for too much rest for himself, Walton is already seeing signs of how well James can recover.
“His legs seem to be getting younger as training camp goes on,” Walton said. “It normally works the other way. But he’s jumping higher, he’s moving quicker the more we get out there and play.”
A new role
In preparing for Thursday’s season opener, Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts examined video from James’ days playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers the last four seasons to “see if we could discern anything from those games.”
When he compared what James did in Cleveland with that he did during the exhibition season with the Lakers, Stotts immediately noticed that James didn’t have to run the show all the time.
“I think the one thing with the Lakers is they’ve got a lot more ballhandlers, playmakers than they probably had in Cleveland,” Stotts said. “They relied on him to be the primary ballhandler, playmaker in Cleveland. I think with the group they have in [Rajon] Rondo and [Lonzo] Ball and [Brandon] Ingram, they’ve got a lot of guys who can make plays.”
Before the game, the Trail Blazers honored Paul Allen, the team’s owner who died Monday of cancer. Stotts said he’ll think about how Allen was an “extraordinary man not only in sports but in the world in general.”
“Just be thinking about the impact on the lives that he’s had around the world beyond basketball,” Stotts said. “It was a phenomenal life and it’s really hard to kind of wrap your mind around it.”
Stott said at times this week it was hard to focus on his job because his mind wandered back to Allen and what he meant to so many people.