With LeBron James at 38 years old, starting his 21st season, the talk has been all about lightening the load for James.
Whether that means Anthony Davis is now the guy, Rob Pelinka building a talented roster that helps the team stay afloat during non-LeBron minutes, or limiting James' minutes themselves. Everything has been phrased to ensure the Lakers star does less during the regular season so he can perform his best in the postseason.
Five games into the year, however and James finds himself near the top of minutes played, averaging 35.6 a game, not exactly demonstrating a team that's showing restraint with a veteran's wear and tear early on.
Anthony Davis leads the league in minutes played and D-Lo is currently fifth highest with LeBron just behind him at seven. That's wild. pic.twitter.com/O6e4ljN0Ff— Edwin Garcia (@ECreates88) November 2, 2023
Head coach Darvin Ham discussed the monitoring of LeBron James' minutes postgame after the Lakers beat the Clippers but needed overtime to do it, causing James to play 42 minutes.
"It's a daily thing. We go into it with a plan but once those games get hotly contested, that plan pretty much goes out the window," Ham said. "I always say I have a plan for him through three quarters and that fourth quarter, anything can happen. And, again, I can't state it enough – his competitive intensity and my competitive intensity puts us in the same boat in terms of wanting him to be out there and him wanting to be out there."
The temptation to overplay James will always be there if a game is within reach. Regardless of where you rank James all-time, he's in the conversation for the greatest player ever. You're not going to find that kind of talent on the bench or have other players you'd rather have on the floor on this or any roster.
With the Lakers suffering so many injuries already, the thinning bench makes it even harder to limit James' play.
"It's something we're definitely going to continue to monitor and take things one day at a time but, again, having so many people out – Taurean, Rui, Gabe, all these guys – and seeing our guys step up, this was the main focal point for us this summer of building a well-balanced roster deep at every position for times like this where guys just have their numbers (and) got to step up. Hopefully, that'll continue to happen – not the injuries – but guys being able to step up and carry their weight and, hopefully, that'll allow us to rest LeBron a little bit more and play him less minutes."
It sounds like the best way to limit James' usage is to have comfortable leads early on, allowing him to take longer breaks, especially in the first three quarters since, in the fourth, "anything can happen." That means getting off to better starts in the first quarter, which L.A. hasn't done losing the opening frame 166-119 this season.
If other supporting players like Max Christie and Cam Reddish can step up while others are out, the Lakers can lighten the load on James and continue winning during this upcoming four-game road trip.
If they can not, expect James to log more minutes than the team has discussed. The temptation to play him is too high and at the end of the day, if James wants to be out there, he will. You take out that desire by having a lead and control of the game through four quarters instead of needing another masterclass from James in the fourth to squeak out a win.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.