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How Will a LeBron James Minutes Restriction Impact the Los Angeles Lakers?

It only took seven quarters for the Los Angeles Lakers to go back on the preseason minutes restriction the team set for LeBron James. The legendary star is entering his 21st NBA season, which makes a minutes restriction logical.

The beauty of making a decision like this is that a team like Los Angeles can adjust it to find the right minute load for James. The ultimate goal is for the franchise to win its 18th championship and James to win his fifth. The journey there is going to be fascinating. How will Los Angeles go about a minutes restriction for James this season?

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The historical context of James playing in his 21st season has to be said to understand why a minutes restriction might be a good idea. Only five other players in the history of the league have played a 21st season.

Those five players, Robert Parish, Kevin Willis, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter, were all either reserves or played only a portion of the season. They were no longer All-Star caliber players.

None of them averaged double-figures scoring or were a main player on a championship-contending team.

James is, as he has been since the day he entered our lives as the next big thing, the most unique athlete in the history of basketball.

Over his career, James has played a combined 1,705 games (third most of all-time) and 65,811 minutes (second most of all-time). He will potentially become the all-time leader in both of those categories by season’s end.

There are more miles on James than any other professional athlete in the history of team sports.

In James’ 20th NBA season he played in 55 of the 82 games, leading Los Angeles to the Western Conference Finals while averaging 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game.

Looking ahead to this season and beyond, managing James’ minutes could be a key to the team making a run for another championship. 

This Los Angeles team has two things that the team has not had over the past three seasons since winning the NBA Championship in the bubble. A viable playmaker and depth.

Austin Reaves gives Los Angeles a new wrinkle as a confident playmaker and scorer. In the playoffs gained James’ trust and proved himself as a big-time player in this league. He finished the playoffs averaging 16.9 points, 4.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game on 46-44-89 splits.

In the regular season, Reaves was a spot starter and used primarily as a shooter. When given the chance to run the offense and make plays, Los Angeles became a contender.

So far in just two games this season Reaves has not been used as a playmaker or a scorer. He is logging just 29.5 minutes per game, averaging fewer points, assists and shots per game than he did in the regular season last year.

One way to help ease the minutes on James is to open up the playbook for a playmaker like Reaves to give the offense the same energy it had in the playoffs last season.

The second thing Los Angeles has this year is depth. Specifically on the wing. The team brought back Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt while signing Taurean Prince. With D’Angelo Russell, Gabe Vincent and Reaves in the backcourt, Anthony Davis and Christian Wood in the frontcourt, there is depth for Los Angeles.

A minutes restriction for James in his 21st season is not a black-and-white, hard cap at 30 minutes a night. That is the simplistic, First Take way to look at this variable for Los Angeles.

Restricting Jame’s minutes on a game-by-game basis, through the first three quarters and by opponent is the way to preserve his legs for a potentially long playoff run. 

Some nights James might play just 29 minutes against a team like the Denver Nuggets who were in control of the game all night and then play 35 minutes against a shorthanded Phoenix Suns team for a much-needed win. 

There is more nuance to winning at the highest level in the NBA. The medical staff along with Darvin Ham and his coaching staff have a very important tightrope to walk this season to win a championship.

Early returns have Los Angeles 1-1 with James playing 32.0 minutes per game. If that holds it will be his lowest minutes per game in the regular season of his career. 

It will also be more than double what Garnett, Nowitzki and Carter played in season 21 and nearly quadruple what Parish and Willis played. Keep that perspective this season as Los Angeles tinkers with how much they play James per game, in his 21st NBA season, as one of the best players in the game today.

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Kris Habbas
Kris Habbas
Once writer, then editor of NBA Draft Insider. Did some work for Dime Magazine. Wrote about the NBA and WNBA as a beat writer for Bright Side of the Sun. Mostly basketball. Lots of words.

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