LeBron James talks load management, was surprised by short turnaround on new season: 'Oh s---'

The last time LeBron James competed on an NBA basketball court, his Los Angeles Lakers wrapped up a championship over the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

That was Oct. 11.

On Dec. 22, he’s slated to take the floor again for the Lakers’ season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers. The two-month turnaround is obviously the shortest of his career. And it arrives eight days before he turns 36 years old.

‘I wasn’t expecting that’

It’s less than ideal, like most things COVID-19 inspired. James told reporters in a video conference on Monday that the pre-Christmas start date caught him by surprise.

“‘I was like, ‘Wow,’ and I said, ‘Oh, s---,’” James said, per the Los Angeles Times. “Being completely honest, I wasn't expecting that because the early conversations that were going on, I was hearing it would kind of be a mid-January start and training camp would kind of start after Christmas.”

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James stands on the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
LeBron James all but laid out his plans to load-manage liberally within the NBA's updated guidelines on Monday. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

NBA lays out updated load-management guidelines

With the record short turnaround for a new NBA season, the league issued new guidelines on Monday regarding load management. Teams were already sitting healthy stars and older players during regular seasons with the belief that the rest would lead to improved energy and performance in the playoffs.

With limited downtime this offseason, it makes sense to expect more load management in the upcoming season. The new guidelines the NBA sent out on Monday take aim at the league’s most prominent games broadcast on national television.

Teams that sit healthy players for nationally televised games will be subject to a fine of $100,000, per the memo. Teams are also prohibited from resting multiple healthy players during a game and resting players on the road “absent unusual circumstances.”

Players who do rest are also required to “be visible to fans,” which seems an odd provision considering the fan restrictions surrounding the upcoming COVID-19 season.

Wiggle room despite $100K fine threat

But the league did acknowledge the “unusual circumstances” surrounding the upcoming season and provided exceptions to address the physical and mental toll of the short break.

“Unusual circumstances” that the league would consider in allowing a healthy player an exception “include, but are not limited to the player’s age, injury history, recovery from COVID-19, season and career workload and other relevant scheduling-related considerations,” the memo reads.

Basically, teams are free to claim load management early in the season. But it better not be for a national TV game. And it should be at home.

Per the memo:

“Accounting for the ‘unusual circumstances’ exception associated with the 2020-21 season, teams will be afforded the flexibility to manage their rosters in a reasonable manner in non-nationally televised games at the beginning of the regular season, particularly within the context of back-to-back games (e.g., to rest a key veteran player who played a substantial role on a team that advanced deep into the 2020 playoffs, or to rest a player who is still returning to full strength after recovering from COVID-19).”

LeBron hints at early rest

The first part of the section in parentheses might as well be dubbed the “LeBron James Clause.”

And James, on Monday, sounded ready to enact it as he sees fit.

“We're going to be as smart as we can be ... we're making sure I'm ready to [play],” James continued. “Obviously every game matters, but we're competing for something that's hard. ...

“The offseason is going to be the shortest offseason for any professional sport ever. We're very conscientious about what we’ll do going forward as far as me personally.”

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