Lakers GM says team faces 'balancing act' with LeBron James' playing time after short offseason

Jack Baer
·Writer
·3 min read

Fifty-one days.

That is how long LeBron James will have to recover from the pandemic-lengthened 2019-20 NBA season before having to report to Los Angeles Lakers training camp. Fifty-one days, rather than the four months off that NBA players typically receive between the NBA Finals and the beginning of the next NBA season.

Every player on the Lakers and Miami Heat who participated in the NBA Finals will have to deal with the unprecedented turnaround, but it’s an especially tall order for James as a 35-year-old who just played his 17th year in the league as the central player of the NBA champions.

James being unable to fully recover from last season would be a significant obstacle for the Lakers as they try to defend their title, and general manager Rob Pelinka admitted as much to reporters on Thursday.

From ESPN:

“That’ll just be a balancing act throughout the season,” Pelinka said on a video conference call with reporters Thursday. “Recognizing that there was an extremely short layoff between championship and the start of the season and kind of figuring out what’s best for LeBron, what’s best for his health, the team’s health, what’s best for the league and kind of walking that carefully and thoughtfully throughout the year.”

That “balancing act” mentioned by Pelinka could take many forms, but it does indicate we shouldn’t expect James playing his usual minutes the entirety of next season.

LeBron James facing dreaded load management

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (23) looks on during the first half in Game 3 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
LeBron James might need to take some games off in 2021. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

James has famously eschewed load management in the past, especially last season when the topic kept coming up due to Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers’ embrace of the tactic.

From last November:

“If I’m hurt, I don’t play. If not, I’m playing,” James said. “That’s what has always been my motto.”

And then December:

“Why wouldn’t I play if I’m healthy? It doesn’t make any sense to me, personally. I mean, I don’t know how many games I’ve left in my career. I don’t know how many kids that may show up to a game that are there to see me play.”

However, James didn’t say all of that knowing he would be facing a two-month offseason in a year, so his calculus might have changed there. The only ways for James to really reduce his workload will be playing fewer minutes during games or simply playing in fewer games, and both could be called load management.

James hinted at some displeasure with the situation with a single emoji earlier this month, and has even joked about cherry-picking during the first half of the season. Former Lakers guard Danny Green said he expected James and other veterans to skip the first month of the season in the event of a December start date.

James is famously meticulous when it comes to his own maintenance as he plays well into his 30s, and it looks like Pelinka will give the star whatever space he needs for the season:

“The great thing about LeBron is he’s so methodical and scientific about how he prepares his body and the team of people he works with,” Pelinka continued. “We have had a really powerful partnership with him to maximize his performance for the playoffs and to win a championship. And I think that’s always a balancing act. The great thing about the NBA and the players’ union is I think they have the same partnership lens of doing what’s best for the players and making sure that we don’t put them in positions to suffer injuries.”

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