From the sounds of it, Lakers star LeBron James has no plans to rest during this season. The Lakers star is putting up terrific individual numbers, with 25.6 points, 8.0 assists and 8.1 rebounds, but the number that is most concerning is 34.8—that is the number of minutes per game he has played.
That’s not a huge number in the context of his career (38.3 over 18 seasons) but for a guy who is 36 and coming off an offseason that was a mere 71 days long, it’s far too big. James has played in all 33 of the Lakers’ games, one of only four players to do so (Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol). He has logged 1,148 minutes, which is tops on the team by a longshot (Dennis Schroder, with 902, is second) and third in the NBA.
Again, James is 36. He has been outspoken about his opposition to the idea of “load management,” and he repeated that this week. But more and more, there is a sense that James should stop trying to be the old-school, lace-’em-up hero. Increasingly, there are calls for James to get some rest. Anthony Davis is hurt, the Lakers are in a freefall and it would be an ideal time for James to step back and take a game off.
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James has a shot at an MVP award this season. He has his history of being anti-rest. He has a chip on his shoulder. But It could be that he should put all that aside and give himself some much-needed time off. If he won’t do it, the Lakers should make sure to do it for him, benching James if need be. That won’t be easy–James wields considerable power in the organization.
But someone is going to have to force James to look at the big picture and see that a few days off now can have a long-term benefit.
‘You’re Gonna Wear LeBron Out’
In the L.A. Times this week, longtime columnist Bill Plaschke was deferential toward James but still implored him to consider his age, think about the long-term goal of the season and have a seat for a while.
“If the entire team’s recent malaise after its record-short 71-day break between seasons is any indication, summer could get ugly,” Plaschke wrote. “The Lakers need their best player at his best. They need the unbreakable James to both recognize and respect his mortality. They need The King to take a throne.”
At CBS Sports, NBA writer Sam Quinn also suggested that the Lakers should step in and rest James. As the Lakers keep trotting out James for big-minute games, they’re putting too much pressure on him, especially if they’re only fighting for a homecourt edge that won’t matter without fans in the stands.
“The Lakers might be able to justify hastening that process for the right prize, but they have very little to gain by playing this way,” Quinn wrote. “Home court over a Clippers team the Lakers share an arena with is essentially meaningless. Immediate wins are a luxury. Health, as these absences have proven, is a necessity in the postseason.”
On Fox Sports, for NBA All-Star Antoine Walker suggested that the Lakers needed to add another piece—Blake Griffin was his answer—because, as he said, “You’re gonna wear LeBron out if you don’t make a move.”
James Ardent on Opposition to Rest
James fought back on this notion earlier in the week, after L.A. had suffered an embarrassing loss to the Wizards on overtime—aided by a missed James free-throw at the end of regulation. The topic of rest came, and James vented, telling reporters:
I mean, I’m resting now. I’m sitting here talking to you guys. I’m resting when I get in my car and head home. I’m resting when I get home. I’m gonna rest tomorrow. I think this whole narrative of ‘LeBron needs more rest,’ or I should take more rest, or I should take time here, it’s become a lot bigger than what it actually is.
I’ve never talked about it. I don’t talk about it. I don’t believe in it. We all need more rest. This is a fast turnaround from last season and we all wish we could have more rest. But I’m here to work, I’m here to punch my clock in and be available to my teammates and if I’m hurt or if I’m not feeling well then we can look at it then.
It is, as things stands, James’ decision on when and how much he wants to play. The Lakers give him that leeway. But he is pushing hard here in mostly meaningless games, with little help on hand. He ought to look forward, ought to remember that the important games come this summer.
If he does not do that, the Lakers might have to take a more structured look at how they’re handling their star. General manager Rob Pelinka should speak with him. Coach Frank Vogel should show him some games in which he could sit out.
In the end, the Lakers might have to make the decision to sit him, whether he likes it or not.