Lakers’ LeBron James preparing for 21st season ‘like a rookie’

dave mcmenaminespn staff writerSeptember 28, 2023, 09:01 PM ETread 5 minutes

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El Segundo, California. – The Los Angeles Lakers’ plan to help LeBron James extend his unprecedented peak into the 21st season of a stellar career involves adding talent around him, not cutting his minutes.

“Bron, he does a great job of taking care of himself,” Lakers coach Darwin Ham said in a press conference Thursday before the start of L.A.’s training camp next week. “The team we have around him right now, the pieces we have, those guys will step up and do the heavy lifting early on.”

James, who will turn 39 in December, averaged 35.5 minutes per game last season, which was slightly less than the 37.2 minutes per game he logged in 2021-22, but it was still better than his That was more than the average played in any of the first three games. Season with the Lakers. Statistically, James was still impressive – averaging 28.9 points on 50% shooting with 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists – but he missed 27 games due to a torn tendon in his right foot.

Although James’ overall play has declined very slightly since signing with the Lakers, his body has betrayed him at times. He has missed 111 games due to injury over the last five seasons after playing only 71 games in his first 15 years in the league.

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka praised James’ offseason work ethic and mental approach following a disappointing end to the Lakers’ postseason, when they were eliminated from the Western Conference Finals by the Denver Nuggets.

“It’s shocking for a player who already has 20 years under his belt to be preparing for 21 as if he’s a rookie,” Pelinka said. “He’s working out at 6 in the morning. He’s probably been in our building as well as any player this offseason. Has been in the weight room as much as any player. No matter what team LeBron has played for, it’s It’s been much the same that his work sets the tone.

“Seeing it here has been nothing but growth. For me, let’s talk about it, let’s not talk about it. That’s definitely what this offseason has been about.”

Pelinka kept last season’s core together for the most part, securing contract extensions with Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura and Jared Vanderbilt. LA filled out the remainder of its roster with youth, athleticism and shooting ability, adding 27-year-old guard Gabe Vincent, 29-year-old forward Taurean Prince, 28-year-old big man Christian Wood, 23-year-old forward Chris Wood, and 23-year-old forward John Lewis. Center Jackson Hayes and 24-year-old swingman Cam Reddish.

The Lakers also signed two rookies, 20-year-old Jalen Hood-Schifino from Indiana and 21-year-old Maxwell Lewis from Pepperdine.

LeBron James and the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Denver Nuggets last season.Garrett Ellwood/NBA/Getty Images

“We have to partner with (James) to help him stay healthy (through the end of the season), because that’s his goal,” Pelinka said. “And so I think adding the depth that we have, the versatility, the shooting, all those things will help us manage it.”

Hamm joked that the NBA’s new rest policy – ​​a crackdown on healthy players leaving games to get a night off – should not apply to James based on his experience.

“According to the rest of the rules, he became a grandfather,” Hamm said.

The Lakers’ second-year coach said he will take a long look at the team’s 82-game schedule to find opportunities to lighten his load for James.

“The big picture, month-to-month, different sections in the calendar,” Hamm said.

Both Hamm and Pelinka supported the new rest policy, though the Lakers executive felt it would be a better solution.

“One of the things we’ve talked about with our competition committee is (whether) we can eliminate back-to-back (games),” Pelinka said. “That’s something we would support. Can we eliminate them completely?”

The Lakers have 15 sets of back-to-back games this season, more than the 12 sets they played last year.

While James, Davis and Reaves are the obvious starters after last season’s success, Hamm announced Thursday that Russell will return as the team’s primary ball handler after sitting on the bench in the Denver series.

“He’s our starting point guard,” Hamm said. “I’m going to encourage him to persevere. He’s an extremely intelligent basketball player who is coming back with a chip on his shoulder. He picked us, we believe in him and he’s one of those Who have great pride and passion not only about their individual performance, but also about the performance of their teammates.

“He’s another player who is going to have a great season.”

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