Before the 2021-22 season, the Los Angeles Lakers are pegged as a heavy NBA title favorite. Much of which hinges on star forward LeBron James‘ play as he remains the team’s guiding force. As he moves into his 19th campaign, James issued a strong stance against a reduced minute workload.
LeBron James puts forth a stellar 18th season despite injuries
After guiding the Lakers to their first NBA title in a decade, James put forth an impressive 18th campaign.
Despite Los Angeles experiencing the shortest offseason for an NBA title-winning team, the star forward pushed the franchise to hold one of the best records through the first two months. James began building a strong MVP case after Anthony Davis became sidelined due to a calf injury.
However, he experienced a setback after suffering a right high ankle sprain that forced him to miss six weeks. James returned for the last several games before the playoffs, lifting the team into the seventh seed. After Davis suffered a strained groin, it sealed the Lakers’ fate, leading to a first-round postseason exit against the Phoenix Suns.
As he heads into his 19th year, James has issued a firm stance concerning his minute workload.
LeBron James swiftly rejects any interest in a reduced workload: ‘I feel worse when I play low minutes’
Entering his 19th season, James remains highly motivated to lead the Lakers to an 18th NBA title.
However, it’s also shifted the dialogue over his health, as he’s coming off an injury-plagued campaign that heavily impacted Los Angeles’ failed repeat championship push. James is coming off playing a career-low 33.4 minutes per contest and still suffered a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss roughly six weeks.
Ahead of Tuesday’s season opener against the Golden State Warriors, the four-time league MVP fired back at the notion of playing in reduced minutes.
“I don’t play the game thinking about injuries,” James said Monday via Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “And I also feel worse when I play low minutes.”
James has shouldered significant minute workloads throughout his first 18 campaigns, ranking sixth on the all-time minutes played list. That factor alone cemented his firm stance that limiting his playing time won’t prevent injuries.
Head coach Frank Vogel chimed in, stating that he will keep James playing between 34 to 36 minutes per game while noting that he understands why the star forward wants to play significant minutes.
“Actually in some ways, if he stays over there [on the bench] too long and he gets cold, it’s worse for him to get back in there [on the court],” Vogel said. “Especially since he’s been playing this type of rotation for so long.”
Vogel added that he doesn’t anticipate playing James the entire 82-game slate, giving him time off when necessary to maintain his body throughout the season. Although the underlying concern remains regarding his health, James will get what he wants.
LeBron James will need to be the Lakers’ guiding force
The discussion around James‘ workload goes beyond his health, as the Lakers are counting on him being the guiding force to push the franchise toward championship contention.
While Los Angeles’ fate hinges on Anthony Davis’ health coupled with Russell Westbrook’s fit into the fold, the team will only go as far as James takes them. If the preseason was any indication of what to expect from him, he’s in line for another highly productive campaign.
Westbrook’s presence may impact his numbers, but James’ production should mirror what he accomplished last season. The 17-time All-Star is ready to push forward with a clean slate to make a strong run at a fifth NBA title.
“It’s definitely a completely clean slate,” he said. “And honestly, last year was such a fast-twitch season for us coming off the bubble. And injuries derailed anything that we wanted to do. So it’s a great opportunity for us to kind of just rinse our hands and have a clean slate, and get ready to start building.”
The pressure is on the Lakers as a heavy title favorite and James is ready for the journey.