EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Magic Johnson says he doesn’t want LeBron James to be so overworked by the Los Angeles Lakers that it becomes “Cleveland all over again.” Kobe Bryant says James has been “doing everything” and noted that “that’s not the recipe for winning championship by no means.”
What does James think about his workload with the Lakers?
“I don’t know what asking me to do too much is, to be honest,” James said after practice Tuesday. “I just play my game.”
Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, made his comments to SiriusXM NBA Radio last week after ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that advanced scouts were noticing that James was running point more and more for the Lakers, taking the ball out of point guard Lonzo Ball‘s hands and frequently running the offense without consulting Lakers coach Luke Walton possession by possession.
Bryant chimed in Monday at the Lakers’ annual “All-Access” event when he credited James for righting the ship but said he sees that style of play as merely a temporary solution.
“It is a recipe to keep your head above water, to give yourself a little breathing room, and now it’s going back to teaching how to play the way that we want to play,” Bryant said.
James, with three championships to his name, did not find fault in the standpoint shared by the two Lakers legends, who have five rings apiece.
“I understand the logic behind it,” James said. “I understand what Magic and Kobe are saying because we want to continue to grow the young guys. We want to see how much our young guys can grow and be the best they can be. I mean, Magic and Kobe know who I am. I know who I am. They know what they’re going to get out of me.
“That is, you know what you’re going to get out of me every game. Am I going to play well every game? Am I going to shoot the ball well every game? No. But you know who I am, and when it’s time to — when it’s really, really, really money time, you know who is going to be there. So we got guys who just want to continue to develop and guys that continue to get better and better just from experience. They haven’t had a lot of experience. So I think people are trying to blow it out of proportion, like, ‘OK, why do you have LeBron if you don’t want to use him?’ They don’t understand the logic behind it.”
Walton is playing James 34.7 minutes per game, which would be a career low for the 16-year veteran. The coach explained months ago that his plan is to manage James for the long run, making sure the four-time MVP can be at his best when the Lakers’ championship window opens. James signed a four-year, $154 million deal to come to L.A. in July.
James, while conceptually behind the plan, sometimes balks at the minutes restriction. For instance, he sat the entire fourth quarter of L.A.’s 120-96 blowout win over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, finishing with 22 points in 31 minutes, but he doesn’t think that little extra rest does him much good.
“It doesn’t matter,” James said. “Like you guys asked me the other day, ‘Do you feel better after playing 30 minutes compared to playing 40 minutes?’ It’s like, ‘No.’ I work myself all year round to get in tip-top shape all year round. I don’t stop. So I can do whatever. I mean, I played a Game 7 of the Finals and I damn near played every minute. Last year I played every single game. Every single game. So, you know, you can kind of slice it how you want it, but I understand what Magic and Kobe are saying, and we have to continue to develop these guys because if we don’t, then long-term, what does that do for our franchise?”
Walton has stuck to his guns when it comes to managing James’ minutes, even if his superstar wants otherwise.
“We have pretty good dialogue about how he’s feeling, but there’s definitely times that I take him out he seems frustrated,” Walton said. “Definitely wants to stay on the floor. A lot of that is depending on how the flow of the game is. I like to not have him close the entire fourth quarter. If he starts the fourth, I try to find a couple minutes here or there to sit him out just to keep him a little more fresh for those final couple minutes. But it’s kind of a game-to-game type of thing.”
James admits that being hardheaded about his minutes won’t be the best for the Lakers anyway.
“I want to play 48 minutes a game,” he said. “Seriously. But it’s not going to happen. It’s not smart. It’s not smart on anyone’s behalf, but it’s just the competitive side of me. If you ask any competitive guy that’s been in my case, do they like coming out? There’s not going to be one that’s going to say yes. But at the end of the day, you got to do what’s best for the team, and you got to be able to protect yourself as well. So I love everything that’s going on with our ballclub and this franchise since I got here.”