Monday’s NBA: LeBron considers load management, maps future with Lakers

Detroit News

Greg Beacham
 |  Associated Press

Los Angeles — After LeBron James emerged from the longest season in NBA history with a fourth championship ring, he returned home and planned the first Christmas family vacation of his adult life.

That’s when James learned that his 17th NBA offseason would be unprecedentedly short.

When James was told the NBA intended to resume games on Dec. 22, just 72 days after the Lakers beat Miami to win the title, the superstar admits he reacted with a mild expletive.

“Just being completely honest, I wasn’t expecting that,” James said Monday in his first public comments since the NBA champions opened training camp.

“Early conversations were going on, and I was hearing there would be kind of a mid-January start,” James said. “Training camp would start after Christmas, and we would have the opportunity to spend Christmas with our families. … I had to switch up a lot of things. I just started preparing my mind and preparing my body.”

James still reported to camp ready last week for his 18th NBA season and the pursuit of yet another banner with the Lakers, who added an impressive amount of veteran talent in the abbreviated offseason for their repeat quest.

James also showed up with a new two-year, $85 million contract extension through the 2022-23 season, setting his future in Los Angeles through his 20th NBA campaign.

James chose that year deliberately: His oldest son, LeBron James Jr., will graduate from high school in 2023. Bronny is a sophomore at private Sierra Canyon School, where he played a reserve role on the basketball team last season, and LeBron has previously spoken of his fond dream to play in the NBA with — or against — his son.

“The best thing about it is the year I’ll be a free agent will be the same year my oldest son graduates high school,” James said of his new deal. “I’ll have some options to see, for me personally, what I want to do (going) forward — being around my family, being around my son more, or continue to play this game I love with great health and great spirits. We’ll see.”

Whether that happens, and whether it will be in Los Angeles, won’t be certain for three long years. James intends to make the most of the meantime.

James will shoulder the physical challenges of this difficult year, but it isn’t easy: He said he was “sore as hell” Monday, although that’s normal every year after the first two preseason practices.

The uniqueness of 2020 has forced James and the Lakers to consider whether they should practice load management this season.

LeBron has largely declined to follow other stars’ strategy of strategic absences from games in recent years: He played in all 82 games for Cleveland in 2017-18, and after an injury-plagued 2018-19 in LA, he only missed four games last season.

Still, James has played 1,265 career regular-season games — already the 33rd-most in league history — and an NBA-record 260 playoff contests as he heads toward his 36th birthday later this month.

James and the Lakers haven’t decided on their plans for the regular season, with James saying there’s “a fine line” between strategic rest and unnecessary inactivity. He does sound amenable to limited action in the preseason, which begins Friday.

“We’re going to be as smart as I can be in making sure that my body and making sure that I’m ready to go,” James said. “Every game matters, but we’re competing for something that’s high. I understand that with the shortened (training camp) and the offseason is going to be the shortest in any professional sports ever, we’re going to be very conscious about what we do going forward and with me personally.”

Coach Frank Vogel says it’s too early to make a decision about how much James will play in the preseason or in the regular season.

“We don’t want to underdo it and then he’s not ready to play in real games, but we obviously don’t want to overdo it,” Vogel said of the preseason. “So really don’t know where that’s going to land. I expect we’ll probably see him some, but not a ton.”

No matter what James decides to do this season and into the future, the Lakers clearly have no worries about his long-term viability as a difference-making star. General manager Rob Pelinka signed James last week to a maximum contract extension that will keep him together with Anthony Davis for at least the next three seasons — an enviable situation for any team.

COVID hits Raptors

The NBA and its teams knew it would be much more difficult to contain the coronavirus outside of the bubble. It would be naive to think otherwise, especially as positivity rates soar around the country.

A day after conducting their first full-squad practice, the Toronto Raptors announced that three people within the organization tested positive for COVID-19 during the team’s league-mandated testing period prior to training camp.

The Raptors will call the bay area home through at least March 4 — the first half of the NBA season — because Canadian travel restrictions prevent them from playing their home games in Toronto.

The team released a statement saying that all three people who tested positive are self-isolating, and follow-up testing and contact tracing have revealed no spread to other members of the organization.

Raptors general manager Bobby Webster declined to offer specifics on when the positive tests occurred but said the cases were isolated.

Curry’s long-term goals

Stephen Curry wants to play until he’s 40, perhaps even beyond. And he wants it to be with the Golden State Warriors the entire way.

Curry said discussions have begun with the team about a contract extension and he is “fully committed.” The two-time NBA MVP signed a $201 million, five-year contract in July 2017 that initially was the richest ever, until James Harden topped it with a $228 million extension from the Rockets.

“Everything’s on the table right now,” Curry said. “… It’s a matter of just letting things kind of play out the way that they should. That’s kind of where we’re at right now.”

The 32-year-old Curry is entering his 12th NBA season – and he always aimed to play 16 years in the league, just like father Dell did.

“That was always the goal,” Curry said on a Zoom call with reporters following the first day of training camp. “Now it’s just more so listen to your body. Who knows. You can’t predict the future. I’ve always said I want to play as long as I can play at the level I want to be at and hopefully you can be in that position where you end it on your own terms. Whatever that means, hopefully that is closer to 40.”

Curry likes what the Warriors did this offseason to build another title contender after an NBA-worst 15-50 showing during the shortened 2019-20 season, when he was limited to five games because of a broken left hand. That was tough to see after five straight trips to the NBA Finals, so a commitment to winning every season is a must – and “I want to be a part of it,” he said.

“Wearing the same jersey for as long as I can, that’s a huge goal, for sure. It’s an elite club of guys that you look at that have played with the same organization and been successful and achieved greatness in that respect,” said Curry, who turns 33 in March. Stephen Curry wants to play until he’s 40, perhaps even beyond. And he wants it to be with the Golden State Warriors the entire way.

Curry said discussions have begun with the team about a contract extension and he is “fully committed.” The two-time NBA MVP signed a $201 million, five-year contract in July 2017 that initially was the richest ever, until James Harden topped it with a $228 million extension from the Rockets.

“Everything’s on the table right now,” Curry said. “… It’s a matter of just letting things kind of play out the way that they should. That’s kind of where we’re at right now.”

The 32-year-old Curry is entering his 12th NBA season – and he always aimed to play 16 years in the league, just like father Dell did.

“That was always the goal,” Curry said Monday on a Zoom call with reporters following the first day of training camp. “Now it’s just more so listen to your body. Who knows. You can’t predict the future. I’ve always said I want to play as long as I can play at the level I want to be at and hopefully, you can be in that position where you end it on your own terms. Whatever that means, hopefully, that is closer to 40.”

Curry likes what the Warriors did this offseason to build another title contender after an NBA-worst 15-50 showing during the shortened 2019-20 season, when he was limited to five games because of a broken left hand. That was tough to see after five straight trips to the NBA Finals, so a commitment to winning every season is a must – and “I want to be a part of it,” he said.

“Wearing the same jersey for as long as I can, that’s a huge goal, for sure. It’s an elite club of guys that you look at that have played with the same organization and been successful and achieved greatness in that respect,” said Curry, who turns 33 in March.

Curry was due to make $43 million this season – his salary is expected to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic – and nearly $45.8 million in 2021-22.

Curry was due to make $43 million this season – his salary is expected to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic – and nearly $45.8 million in 2021-22.

Harden’s whereabouts

James Harden hasn’t reported to Houston Rockets camp and coach Stephen Silas said that he didn’t know when the All-Star guard would arrive.

The Rockets had their second workout of training camp and afterward, the new coach addressed the absence of the disgruntled star who reportedly wants to be traded.

“As far as timetable, there’s no timetable as far as I know,” Silas told reporters when asked when Harden would arrive. “And it is a setback. You want your best player to be here. And there’s a short window … I have to be honest and understand this is a setback not having one of the best players in the NBA here.”

Silas, who was hired to replace Mike D’Antoni, said he doesn’t even know if Harden is in Houston and said the team hasn’t discussed any possible penalties for the superstar if he doesn’t report soon.

“I’ve been in situations before where it was a holdout, and we just kind of handled each individual situation on its own merit and individually,” he said. “As far as any sort of punishment, we haven’t even crossed that bridge yet. We’re just trying to work piece by piece.”

The Rockets are intent on keeping Harden as the centerpiece of their team. They shipped Russell Westbrook to Washington last week in exchange for John Wall after Westbrook’s one-year pairing with Harden didn’t pan out.

Silas isn’t sure why the eight-time All-Star and 2018 MVP is not at camp and wouldn’t speculate about the motivation for his absence.

“What the reasoning is, is on him,” Silas said. “He’s the one who can explain why or why not he’s here. For me to make inferences and think about the possibilities isn’t real to me. What’s real is he’s not here and he has a reason, but that’s on him to tell whoever what his reason is.”

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