We’ve been through this before. LeBron James is a player without precedence, and as he works his way into his 30s his journey is going to leave a series of unanswerable questions about how to observe, judge, and in this case rest a player we’ve never seen the likes of before.
James was as candid as ever at Cleveland’s media day on Monday, admitting that even after three months “off,” he sure wouldn’t mind some more time off.
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Via Pro Basketball Talk, here are James’ go-to quotes:
I feel just as healthy as I did my rookie year? Nah, absolutely no. I could definitely use a couple more months off. But it is what is. I’m ready to go. I will be on the floor tomorrow at the start of training camp.
I got a little bit crazy with my workout regiment in September. I was doing three-a-days five days week. So, I believe I improved. Did I get enough rest? I don’t think so, but I definitely improved. I feel good about where I’m at right now.
And the video:
The go-to trope that you’ll probably hear in some sports quarters that we wouldn’t dare visit is that James, at nearly $23 million this season, needs to clam up after talking about needing more rest in his first day back from summer vacation. That anyone would love to be paid as handsomely to work from October until (hopefully) June while receiving high end medical support and the five-star travel treatment along the way. LeBron gets meal money on top of that $22.9 million, by the way. The wimp.
The issue here is that LeBron isn’t a wimp. LeBron is a 30-year old that has already played more career minutes than Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and as his teams routinely make the Finals he’s played as many games as anyone over the last half-decade. With a month left to go in 2014-15 James took minor heat for suggesting that he’d give up a top playoff seed in order to feel rested for the postseason, and that was before he had to drag a mostly Kevin Love-less and eventually Kyrie Irving-less Cavs to the Finals.
The Finals in which he averaged forty-five-point-seven-freaking minutes in.
James, in further speaking to the media, pointed out that he’ll talk to Cavaliers coach David Blatt about lessening his regular season load in 2015-16:
"I'm very hard-headed because I love to play so much. But I think what we have, I don't need to be as hard-headed. I'm going to be very smart with how many minutes I play per game and what I'm doing out there on the floor. I think we have enough pieces and I think Kevin Love will allow me to sit a lot this year just because of his abilities, what he's able to do, Kyrie (Irving) as well, so I won't have to worry about playing big minutes."
There’s no way James, who averaged a career-low 36.1 minutes a game last year, is going to shift down to the sort of 30-minutes a game mark that Tim Duncan has been working at since 2009-10. Even with the aforementioned Irving and Love on the team, he’s too important to what the Cavaliers do on both ends to pull off a Spurs-styled reduction – and this was in place before we learned that Iman Shumpert could be out until 2016.
The issue is that James led the NBA in minutes per game when he was 20. He averaged even more minutes in the season after that, and he averaged over 41 minutes a game between the ages of 18 to 23.
You’ll recall that the sorts of similar (and even that’s pushing it, not in terms of greatness but of style) players that came before LeBron James were all doing their work at North Carolina, Indiana State, Louisiana Tech, and Michigan State during those years – playing 30 times a season. Kobe Bryant came straight out of high school but he didn’t even become a starter in his third year. Kevin Garnett’s ascension was quicker, but he certainly wasn’t playing the 39.5 minutes a game as a rookie, as LeBron did.
Then there are all the mod cons.
James was in his first Finals, dragging a terrible supporting cast from Cleveland there along the way, at age 22. He has never known a first round series to be merely a best-of five. He’s appeared in three Olympics, more than Jordan and Kobe, and two other Team USA competitions during his summers. The man has appeared in 178 career playoff games, at 42.5 minutes a contest, all while attempting to pull off his “I’m kind of like a point guard that can also crush Buicks”-routine.
So when he says that, yeah, I could use a few more months off to prepare what will probably be a 100-plus game season (plus exhibition games, and the All-Star “break”) that will end with playing over 40 minutes a night of nationally televised ball some eight and a half months from now … understand where he’s coming from. He’s not demanding that the NBA shorten its season or for the Cavs to give him the rest of 2015 off, he’s just honest.
And if you’re thinking about buying a ticket to see LeBron play next March? Maybe suss out other options in December, first. He might be sitting a few out, down the stretch.
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