Leading up to the 2020-21 season, Los Angeles Lakers head coach explained there would be constant communication with LeBron James about his health and workload after a historically short offseason.
At 36 years old, James cannot play 40 minutes a night for 72 games and expect to be at full strength for the playoffs. In each of James’ two full seasons with the Lakers thus far, he’s averaged career lows in minutes per game.
In the tumultuous 2018-19 season, it was 35.2. Last season, that figure dropped even lower to 34.6. And after leading the Lakers to a championship just three months ago, his minutes per game have dropped significantly to just 32.1 per game.
“We’ve had extensive talks about it with the coaching staff, medical team, LeBron and our front office. It’s really a day-to-day, game-to-game type of thing,” Vogel said of managing James’ minutes.
“We just want to be responsible with his minutes more than have any kind of hard cap. In terms of whether he’s going to play every game, the plan will be for him to play. If he has an injury that’s acting up or whatever and he needs to sit, then we’ll sit him out.
“But if he feels good, he wants to be in there. That’s sort of how we’re going to proceed going forward.”
When asked if 32 minutes per game was a target limit, Vogel refuted any sort of restriction, saying they’ll simply do the smartest thing on a game to game basis. “Be responsible. That’s the only target. Just try to be responsible with it,” he said.
James’ age and mileage in the NBA is part of the reason why the Lakers made such a splash in free agency, adding a number of younger and highly talented players. This way, whether James plays 40 minutes, 20 or not at all, the Lakers have the depth to win games without him.
James sees benefit in running offense through Marc Gasol
Another way that James has managed to sustain such a high level of play despite his age and mileage is because of the way he plays. He knows exactly when to attack and when to pull back and play a more reserved style.
Because of this, he recognizes that value of a player like Marc Gasol.
“I just think playing through him a lot more. When we do that, we’re very good because of his ability to see the floor and pass the ball,” James said of running offense through Gasol.
“He does some special things out on the floor. When he’s on the floor we have to do a better job of not playing much pick-and-roll with him setting the picks, but more just letting him play that point center position at the top of the key and letting the offense flow through him, because he makes great decisions.”
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