Lakers’ LeBron James prepping for 21st season ‘like a rookie’

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Los Angeles Lakers plan to help LeBron James Extend his phenomenal prime into the 21st season of an illustrious career that involves adding talent around him, not cutting his minutes.

“Bron, he does a great job of taking care of himself,” Lakers coach Darwin Hamm said Thursday at a news conference ahead of the start of training camp in LA next week. “The team that’s around him now, the pieces that we have in place, those guys will step up and do a lot of the heavy lifting early.”

James, who will turn 39 in December, averaged 35.5 minutes per game last season, a tick down from the 37.2 minutes he logged in 2021-22 but more than any of his first three seasons with him. Lakers. Statistically, James was still dominant — averaging 28.9 points on 50% shooting with 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists — but a torn tendon in his right foot caused him to miss 27 games.

Since signing with the Lakers, James has had a noticeable drop off in his overall game, with his body betraying him at times. He has missed 111 games due to injury over the past five seasons after missing just 71 games in his first 15 years in the league.

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka praised James’ offseason work ethic and mental approach after the Lakers’ disappointing finish in the postseason after they were eliminated from the Western Conference finals by the Denver Nuggets.

“It’s amazing for a player who has 20 years ahead of him and he’s preparing for 21 as if he’s a rookie,” Pelinka said. “He’s doing 6 a.m. workouts. Probably as much as any player this offseason in our building. As much in the weight room as any player. Any team LeBron played for, it was pretty much the same that set the tone for his work.

“There’s been nothing but an increase in watching it. To me, let’s be about it, let’s not talk about it. He’s definitely been about it this offseason.”

Pelinka held the core together for the most part last season, securing contract extensions. Anthony Davis, Austin Reeves, D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hashimura And Jared Vanderbilt. LA filled the rest of its roster with youth, athleticism and shooting ability, signing a 27-year-old guard. Gabe VincentThe 29-year-old forward The Taurian Prince28 year old big man Christian Wood23 year old Kendra Jackson Hayes and 24-year-old swingman Cam is red.

The Lakers also signed two 20-year-old rookies Jalen Hood-Schifino Out of Indiana and 21 years old Maxwell Lewis Out of Pepperdine.

“We have to partner with [James] To help him get all the way to the end [of the season healthy]Because that’s his goal,” Pelinka said. “And so I think the depth that we have, the versatility, the shooting, all those things will help us handle it.”

Hamm joked that the NBA’s new rest policy — cracking down on healthy players missing games to get a night off — doesn’t apply to James based on his experience.

“He was grandfathered in by the rest of the rules,” Hamm said.

The second-year Lakers coach added that he will take a longer look at the team’s 82-game schedule to find opportunities for James to lighten his load.

“Big picture, month to month, different categories on the calendar,” says Hamm.

Both Hamm and Pelinka supported the new rest policy, but the Lakers executive offered what he thinks would be a better solution.

“One of the things we talked about, [with] Our competition committee, Hall [if] We can eliminate back to back [games]”, Pelinka said “That’s something we would support. Can we eliminate them completely?

The Lakers have 15 sets of back-to-back games this season, up from 12 they played last year.

While James, Davis and Reaves are clearly building on last season’s success, Hamm announced Thursday that Russell will return as the team’s primary ball handler after being benched in the Denver series.

“He’s our starting point guard,” Hamm said. “I’m going to encourage him to be aggressive. He’s a very smart basketball player who’s coming back with a chip on his shoulder. He picked us up, we believe in him and he’s one of those guys with a lot of pride and passion. Just his individual performance. No, not about his teammates either.

“He’s another guy who’s going to have an outstanding season.”

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