THE SECOND, California. – The Los Angeles Lakers coach, Luke Walton, is connected in the long game while trying to reduce the time that LeBron James remains on the basketball court this season.
"We have four years," Walton said Wednesday on the eve of the Lakers opening season on the road to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Walton, of course, referred to the contract that James had signed this summer to reach L.A. (three years guaranteed, with a player option for the fourth). He claims he does not want to run out of James, who turns 34 in December, this season, when the Lakers hope to enter a championship window over James's stay in the team.
"We want to make sure we're not just playing the best way we're at the end of the season, it's cool," Walton said. "And that's a goal for us, and it's a goal that we're on the road and it's not a one-year trip." We continue to try and be our best season in season, but also as everyone continues.
"And, of course, it offers us the best opportunity to be at our best."
James drove the championship in just a few minutes last season, playing 36.9 a night for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee Bucks, who is 10 years younger than James, was the second with 36.7. Cavs officials joked in private saying "the tread is detached from the wheels" when James makes the transition to L.A. after playing so much last season. Walton, without citing a specific number, wants James's minutes in a "reasonable" range.
"This will probably change with the way we play in the team, where we are in the season," Walton explained. "We will try to keep it in a reasonable number." To do this, Walton presented his plan to use a deeper rotation than the 9-10 turnstile of a typical team.
"We want to play fast, and to do that we have to put them in and out and out," Walton said. "So we'll have a lot of guys out there."
Last season was also the first time in his 15 seasons that he played all 82 regular season games. James says it was the result of health, not the achievement of a goal. He is following the same approach this season.
"I did not have a number (of games in the lead) last year," James said this week. "Go out and if my body feels good, I'm out there, if my body can not perform at the level I'd like to play for my teammates, then I will not."
Walton said that James with 82-for-82 is "definitely a chance" again.
"Resting with me is always something like that, you have to take it as it is," Walton said. "See how the season is going, get to those difficult stretches, there are annoying wounds or not, and that's when I would do it, we will not rest only to rest, only if the body or the mind needs it. "