The Los Angeles Lakers appear to have found a new “load management” plan for LeBron James that will bypass the NBA’s new rules.
James played just 29 minutes in the Lakers’ 119-107 season opener loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night. Although it was just one game, it was nearly 10 minutes less than James’ average playing time in the league for more than two decades.
Head coach Davon Hamm said after the game that was intentional and that it might just be a trend that continues the rest of the year.
Darvin Ham on whether LeBron James’ 29 minutes will become a trend this season: “We’ll see. Probably yes.”
Hamm added that number could be determined based on how James feels and the decision of the team’s training staff.
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) October 25, 2023
The NBA approved a new load management policy in September aimed at preventing teams from resting star players this season, something that has become a problem in recent years. If a team violates the new rules and is still designated a “star player,” they could face fines starting at $100,000 and up to $1 million for subsequent violations.
A star player is defined as any player who has been selected to the All-Star team or to the All-Pro team in the past three seasons — so that includes James. However, he is one of seven players in the league who is eligible for a waiver because he is over 35 years old and has logged more than 34,000 regular season minutes. However, in order to be eligible for the NBA season award, James must play at least 65 games.
The Lakers have revisited the 38-year-old semi-routinely in certain situations in recent seasons, and the reasoning makes sense. He’s been injured frequently since arriving in Los Angeles and is nearing the end of his career. Keeping up with the young league at his current rate is no longer feasible and they would rather keep him as healthy as possible.
But now with new load management rules in place, the Lakers appear to have found a way to protect James’ health while keeping him on the court.
James still led the Lakers with 29 minutes on Tuesday night. He made 10 of 16 shots and scored a team-high 21 points, as well as 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Although the Lakers tied the score to just one possession early in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets relied on Nikola Jokic’s triple-double to win by 12 points.
James has averaged 38.1 minutes per game throughout his career. In his second season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he averaged a league-high 42.4 minutes per game, and has only averaged less than 34 minutes per game once in his career. Consistently dropping below 30 minutes per game, which while still a respectable number, would be a big change.
But if it keeps James healthy and on the court all season and prevents the Lakers from getting fined, it might be the best path forward. Whether they can win this way, however, remains to be seen.