A challenge Phil Jackson faced with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant now falls to Luke Walton as he and the Los Angeles Lakers embark on a first season with LeBron James leading the roster. James, entering his 16th campaign, is coming off the first in which he played in all 82 games.
“We’re going to try to keep his minutes at a reasonable number,” Walton said. “That’ll probably change with how we’re playing as a team, or where we’re at in the season. But we’d like to keep him at a reasonable number.”
James led the league last season at 36.9 minutes per game; that increased to 41.9 during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ run to a fourth consecutive (eighth for James) NBA Finals appearance. He also led the league during the 2016-17 season at 37.8 minutes and has averaged more than 37 minutes a night in all but one of his 15 seasons thus far.
“We got four years,” said Walton, alluding to the contract James signed with the Lakers in free agency this year. His deal included a guaranteed three years and player option for 2021-22.
“We want to make sure that we’re not only playing at our best come the end of the season, but that he’s fresh,” Walton added. “It’s a goal that we’re on a journey, and it’s not a one year journey. We’ll continue to try to be our best season by season, but also as each one goes on and obviously he gives us the best opportunity to be at our best.”
That being said, Walton did not rule out James potentially playing in all 82 regular-season games for a second straight year, deeming it, “definitely a possibility.”
When recently discussing the subject himself, James said he did not have a targeted number of games or range of minutes in mind. Like Walton outlined, the 14-time All-Star intends to approach it on a day-by-day basis.
Walton previously said he would be in constant communication with James over his minutes and potential opportunities for rest, either in practice or games. “Rest with me is always kind of, you gotta take it as it comes,” Walton reiterated.
“See how the season’s going when you get into those tough stretches. Are there nagging injuries happening or not? And that’s when you would do it. But we’re not gonna just rest somebody just to rest them. Only if the body or mind needs it.”
For as much as the Lakers will rely on James, their hope is to do so without becoming crippled by the dependency. It was a driving force to the signing of versatile veterans who could join the young core in alleviating the playmaking pressure on James’ shoulders.
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