Lakers Mum on LeBron James Rest Plan, Avoiding Hypocrisy Charge

LeBron James, Lakers

Getty LeBron James, Lakers

In just about a week, Lakers star LeBron James turns 36. In NBA terms, that means he should either be playing spot minutes at the end of the bench, having a farewell tour, or looking for work in broadcasting. James is old, and most NBA stars are retired by now.

Michael Jordan retired at 35, before an ill-advised comeback with the Wizards at 38, in which he was a shell of himself. Kobe Bryant was 37 when he left the game. And while there have been players whose usefulness extended beyond age 36—Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd recently, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar historically—they are rare cases and they don’t stick around much beyond that age.

How the Lakers deal with James will be critical this season, which gets underway Tuesday night.  While they’re not calling it load management—James spoke out on that last year—that is exactly what James will need this season, whether he likes it or not.

That would set the Lakers and James up for some accusations of hypocrisy. But they seem to be dodging those accusations by not being clear on how they plan to rest James throughout the year.

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“We’re going to be as smart as we can be,” James said in his first meeting with the media this offseason. “Obviously, every game matters, but we’re competing for something that’s hard. We don’t ever want to shortchange our stuff. For me personally, that’s often a kind of fine line, but understanding that it’s a shortened season (and) the offseason is going to be the shortest season for any professional sport ever. We’re very conscientious about what we’re going to do going forward as far as me personally.”

James Was Outspoken on Load Management

“Conscientious” seems to be a well-chosen and vague word there. The Lakers are, of course, conscientious about what they do with all their players.

What we don’t specifically know is what the Lakers have planned for James as we head into what will be the weirdest NBA season on record, with a condensed, 72-game schedule and just 72 days between the end of the Finals and the tipoff of this season. But we do know that, given James’ age and the limited downtime from season to season this year, James will need to take some games off.

But the Lakers do not want to put it that way. Not after what happened a year ago, when James was embroiled in a controversy concerning the Clippers and the way they were treating star forward Kawhi Leonard. James seemed put off by the way Leonard would sit out games for rest.

“Why wouldn’t I play if I’m healthy? It doesn’t make any sense to me,” James told reporters. “My obligation is to play for my teammates. If I’m healthy, then I’m going to play.”

That drew a harsh response from then-Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “It’s our philosophy. I don’t know what theirs are,” Rivers said. “I think theirs is whatever LeBron says it is, to be honest.”

After taking a stand against load management, James will now need to rely on it if he wants to stay healthy and in good trim for the long playoff slog next spring.

Lakers Must Have a Rest Plan for LeBron James

Here’s how coach Frank Vogel described the Lakers’ plan to preserve James: “There will be conversations between the coaching staff, the front office, the medical team and LeBron,” Vogel said. “Just sort of on a day-to-day basis, see how he’s feeling and we’ll see how that plays out.”

Now, think about that. The Lakers’ plan to keep James healthy and rested is to just see how he’s feeling day-to-day, just see how things play out? That defies logic. All teams are meticulous in their plans with players, and the suggestion that the Lakers’ current plan with the best player in the world is to simply shrug and say, “We’ll see,” is absurd.

No doubt, the Lakers have a load management plan here. But they also have a player who has scoffed at those who employ load management. To avoid charges of hypocrisy, though, they’re keeping those plans under wraps.

This team is built to defend its championship. That means they could be playing well into June. That means their soon-to-be-36-year-old star needs rest, and there must be a plan in place to make sure of that. Just don’t expect to hear much about it.

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