LeBron James began his 2014 offseason by submitting his free agent decision with a short essay, as worked up by Sports Illustrated. No travel and photo ops, no televised decision-making, no seaside rendezvous theatrics on stage in Miami, no muss and no fuss.
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He then decided to cut carbohydrates from his diet and lost a fair amount of weight. Nothing that left observers thinking he was emaciated, but enough to encourage that James would be able to sustain what most expected to be yet another slog all the way toward the NBA Finals. Midway through that slog LeBron decided to rest his aching back and knee, mindful that he needed to be at his best in May and June.
In spite of all of that, James showed up to camp last fall wishing he had more time to rest. All the preventative measures did little to keep him out of pain.
Months later, however, LeBron swears that he’s feeling far better than he did during 2014-15’s failed title run, despite not taking as many calming steps in the second year of his return to Cleveland. From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.com:
"It's how my body was feeling," James said Wednesday after the Cleveland Cavaliers held shootaround in preparation for a 114-103 win over the Charlotte Hornets. "Last year I was banged up. It's not a mindset, it's just reality. This year I feel 10 times better than I did last year. So that's the mindset."
"I guess I've played so much basketball, man, feeling great, those days are pretty much over," James said. "I don't know anybody that's played 13 years that you can say, 'Oh, I woke up and I feel great.' I feel great as far as life and getting an opportunity to wake up, but as far as me feeling like a 23-year old, those days are passed."
Those days certainly have passed, partially because by age 23 James had already been in the NBA for four and a half seasons, led the NBA in total minutes twice and taken a rather terrible Cleveland Cavaliers outfit to the Finals. For James to swear that he feels “10 times better than I did last year” is more than a little telling. Presuming he’s not trying to throw a bit of fright toward the contenders in the Western Conference.
James may have admitted to wishing for more time off to start the season, but he followed that up soon after by telling the press that he’d prefer to play in all 82 games in 2015-16. That won’t happen, but his lone 2015-16 sit-out (thus far) in Miami was punctuated by catcalls for those notoriously hearty Miami Heat fans.
Days later, James relayed that shortened minutes weren’t for him, and that’s held up. His minutes per game haven’t changed much in comparison to last season, as he’s right at 36 a night. That number has shot up under new coach Tyronn Lue to nearly 39 minutes a contest in Lue’s first 15 games, but both James and Lue have the excuse featuring an eight-day stretch in between games during the All-Star break.
James had to play in that All-Star Game, though. And 39 minutes a night, for all James does, is a lot. This is a man who was drafted 13 years ago, who finished his sixth season averaging over 40 minutes a night on his career, who takes part in endless international play (which might include the 2016 Olympics), and who has played deep into June six times. With the Cavs pulling away from the rest of the East, and with a potential Game 7 of the Finals taking place 11 weeks from now, it might be time to re-think these numbers.
This is probably part of the reason why LeBron, on a roll and with his Cavaliers playing fantastic ball, snuck the “ten times better”-line in there. Dropping Triscuits from his diet and sitting games left him pained last year, and he clearly feels that pushing the accelerator until it breaks through the floor is the only way to make 2015-16 work.
Let’s see how it drives.
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