Anytime LeBron James steps onto a court, the best and smartest play a coach can call is to hand him the ball and say “go.” That said, when he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, he reportedly didn’t want to be used in that same way and preferred to be surrounded by creators as well as some shooting rather than just the latter.
After Kobe Bryant gave his two cents on the way the Lakers rely on James (echoing some of Magic Johnson’s previous concerns), James responded with a very nuanced answer that takes into account both short- and long-term approaches.
“I don’t know what asking me to do too much is, to be honest,” James told reporters after practice Tuesday afternoon. “I just play my game. I understand the logic behind it — I understand what Magic and Kobe are saying because we want to continue to grow the young guys. We want to see how much our young guys can grow and be the best they can be.”
To be clear, when Bryant and Johnson both mentioned a potential over-reliance on James, it seemed to come from more of a concern about wear and tear on the 16-year veteran. This portion of James’ response seems to regard why it’s important to also develop the young core, though he does address concern about his workload taking a toll in a bit. He continues.
“Magic and Kobe know who I am — I know who I am. They know what they’re going to get out of me. You know what you’re going to get out of me every game. Am I going to play well every game? Am I going to shoot the ball well every night? No, but you know who I am,” James said. “When it’s really, really, really money time, you know who is going to be there.
“So, we got guys who are going to continue to develop and get better through experience. People are going to try to blow it out of proportion, like ‘Why did you have LeBron if you don’t want to use (the young guys) as much?’ Guys don’t understand the logic behind it, but it doesn’t matter.”
This is where the Lakers reach a fork in the road on an almost nightly basis. On one hand, the approach that will most likely win them games is to run everything through LeBron and see how the young core fits around that approach.
“Like, you guys asked me the other day, ‘Do you feel better after playing 30 minutes compared to how you feel after playing 40 minutes?’” James said, before answering his own question.
“No. I work myself all year-round to get in tip-top shape all year-round. I don’t stop,” James continued. “I can do whatever. I mean, I played in game seven of the finals and damn near played every minute of it. Last year, I played every single game... So, you can slice it how you want it, but I understand what Magic and Kobe are saying and we have to continue to develop these guys because, if we don’t, then, long-term, what does that do for our franchise?”
James’ workout regimen is the stuff of legend. Yes, Father Time comes for all, but James seems to have figured out a few ways to keep him away longer than just about anyone in the history of sports. That said, we heard the same kind of stuff about Kobe before an insane workload led to a torn achilles and a career that never recovered. So it makes sense that Bryant might be concerned from that standpoint.
What’s funny is: All this can be true. James can be capable of a crazy workload in year 16 because he is immensely physically and mentally talented. It also serves the Lakers long-term to let guys like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart learn what it takes to win for as long as they can while the wins keep coming. Kobe and Magic’s concerns make sense given a) Bryant’s own medical history and b) what Johnson knew about James’ preferences upon signing.
Where does that leave us? I have no effing clue. But so long as James keeps talking about “our franchise,” I’m cool with just about everything this godforsaken world can throw at me.