According to previous reports, the Los Angeles Lakers were going to put LeBron James on a minutes restriction and have him sit out most back-to-backs as the season comes to a close now that they (once again) find themselves outside of the playoff picture.
Following practice Friday afternoon, Luke Walton said the policy isn’t to reduce James’ minutes to a specific amount, and that there is no hard cap on how many he can play (via Lakers.com):
“(I’m going to) continue to monitor them and play him where I want. There won’t be a restriction, as far as what his max minutes are. If there’s games I feel like playing him more minutes, then I’ll play him more. But I will keep a closer eye on the minutes and on how much I’m playing him.
When asked about what is going into this decision, Walton hinted at something that has been wondered about extensively: Whether James has yet to return to 100 percent health since returning from the groin injury that held him out for 18 games this season:
“Just to make sure we keep him healthy to finish this season. He’s still got a little bit lingering from the injury. There’s always compensation. With the amount of miles he’s put on those tires, anything we can do to keep him as fresh as possible, we’re going to try to do that.”
Walton was then asked whether there was any pushback from LeBron on this decision and how to handle things moving forward. It seems like James understands the situation:
No. He understands. Obviously, he’s a competitor and he wants to be out there competing, but he also sees the big picture.
Walton also said that no official decision has been made regarding back-to-backs (though it was reported James would probably sit those out).
So what this all comes down to is semantics. Luke’s sentiment is so close to what was previously reported that this almost comes across as a pointed reminder of who is still in charge so long as he is the team’s head coach.
Either way, it all comes back to the same thing. The Lakers are essentially out of the playoffs, and as such, are planning for the future by making sure James is ready for next season. They’re just trying to do it without drawing the ire of the league office in the same way the New Orleans Pelicans have with Anthony Davis.
It makes no sense to play James long minutes or in back-to-backs given the lack of any real stakes. Add to that the latest on Lonzo Ball, and it really doesn’t make much sense to over-exert anyone to close this season.