Magic Johnson, keeping a big-picture eye on LeBron James‘ usage, reiterated Thursday that the Los Angeles Lakers will continue to follow their offseason plan of trying to lighten James’ load compared to how he was utilized with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We are trying to make sure that we watch his minutes but also that we don’t run everything through him because now it is Cleveland all over again and we don’t want that,” Johnson said in an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “We want to get up and down.”
After the Lakers president of basketball operations signed James to a four-year, $154-million deal this summer, Johnson said the team wanted to keep James as fresh as possible for seasons to come and not just focus on this season’s success. So the Lakers signed free agents like Rondo and Lance Stephenson with the vision that the vets — along with younger players like Lonzo Ball, Bradon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma — would help take some of the play-making burden and keep some more mileage off the 33-year-old James.
“Basically minutes, trying to make sure we don’t overplay him and then also usage of the ball in his hands,” Johnson told SiriusXM NBA Radio. “We got a lot of ballhandlers so we feel we won’t overuse him in terms of his ballhandling and also every play has to run through him. I think we got proven scorers — Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram … and then when you have two point guards like Ball and Rondo, we don’t have to have LeBron having the ball in his hands all the time.”
While the Cavaliers surrounded James with shooters to take advantage of James’ playmaking strengths, the Lakers wanted to go in a different direction by adding players who could create their own shots and opportunities for others and not have to depend so much on James.
But James has been handling the ball more recently, especially with Rondo suffering a broken hand two weeks ago. Coach Luke Walton has had to lean more on James and Ingram to facilitate with Rondo recovering after surgery.
Including the game against Portland that Rondo injured his hand on Nov. 14, James is averaging 29.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.0 assists in the Lakers’ last seven games.
For the season, James is averaging 34.8 minutes, a career-low in his 16 seasons. Last season, James averaged 36.9 minutes while playing in all 82 games for the first time in his career.
The Lakers enter Thursday’s game against Indiana on a two-game slide. But they had won nine of their last 13 games.
“We’re playing up and down,” Johnson said. “We look good one minute or two quarters and then we don’t look good the next two quarters. So we haven’t been consistent yet. I think they are still learning how to play with one another and trying to adapt to Luke’s system.
“I’ve always said that in January we will look better and I still think that is going to happen. Tyson Chandler has added to our team because we defensively we needed a defensive-minded backup center to JaVale [McGee] … we still haven’t come together. Once we do that, we will be a really good team.”