LOS ANGELES – Ready or not, defending champion Los Angeles Lakers will play preseason games in less than a month. That means future Los Angeles superstar LeBron James, 36, will be gearing up for his 18th season when it looks like he just wrapped up his 17th season, with a title in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida.
Rob Pelinka, the Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager, believes the rapid change will create a challenge for a veteran like James that the entire organization must handle.
“That will be a balancing act throughout the season,” Pelinka said in a video conference with reporters on Thursday. “Recognizing that there was an extremely short break between the championship and the start of the season and how to find out what is best for LeBron, what is best for his health, the health of the team, what is best for the league and walk with care and consideration. ” throughout the year “.
James has consistently rejected the use of load management, telling ESPN last season: “If I’m injured, I don’t play … If not, I’m playing.” He posted a video to his Instagram account this week, showing him approaching a grass field while holding cleats in his right hand. “Let’s get to work! Let’s get back to that,” he wrote.
He appeared in 67 of the Lakers’ 71 regular-season games and finished second in the MVP voting to Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, who is 10 years his junior.
“The best thing about LeBron is that he is so methodical and scientific about how he prepares his body and the team of people he works with,” continued Pelinka. “We’ve had a really powerful partnership with him to maximize his playoff performance and win a championship. And I think that’s always a balancing act. The great thing about the NBA and the players’ union is that I think they have the same lens. association to do what’s best for the players and make sure we don’t put them in positions to get injured. “
It’s been a busy week for Pelinka, as he orchestrated a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire point guard Dennis Schroder, which cost Los Angeles the No. 28 draft pick (Jaden McDaniels of Washington) and Danny Green. Pelinka has also been monitoring the rest of the roster as he anticipates the start of free agency on Friday. In preparation for that, the Lakers announced Thursday that they would resign backup guard Quinn Cook, releasing his $ 3 million contract.
Whatever happens in free agency, the Schroder trade gives the Lakers a 27-year-old leading guard coming off a season in which he averaged 18.9 points on 46.9% shooting (38.5% of 3), 4 assists and 3.6 rebounds.
“Dennis is a player that other teams hate to play against, but his teammates love to play because he has that kind of nasty tenacity, courage, and that’s really at the center of how we play and win,” Pelinka said. “So he really folds into that perfectly. And then I think he gives us another elite player offensively, both with the ball in pick-and-roll and without the ball as a scorer.”
Coincidentally, Rajon Rondo, the player for whom Schroder is being hired as insurance in case the veteran point guard leaves in free agency, became involved with him during a Lakers-Thunder game last season, resulting in a fine of $ 35,000 for Rondo.
And his story with the franchise doesn’t end there. Los Angeles engaged Oklahoma City in Schroder-focused business talks ahead of the 2019 trade deadline.
“He has been a player we are chasing not just at this trade deadline, but before we aggressively chased him,” Pelinka said. “Finalizing the transaction and taking him to the Lakers is satisfying. I think it’s easy to become complacent when you win a title and just say, ‘Hey, let’s go back.’ But at the same time, I think my school of thought is always: ‘Let’s look for ways we can be even better. Every offseason, let’s get better. ‘”
Part of getting better will be deciding which championship team players to recruit to advance. Anthony Davis refused to resume the final year of his contract to enter free agency. The Lakers, sources told ESPN, will present Davis with various contract options and invite him to choose the offer that makes him feel most comfortable.
James has a contract, as do Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker and Kyle Kuzma; however, Kuzma is eligible for the extension.
“When the time is right, we will sit down and talk to them,” said Pelinka, a former agent. “But we are proud to have selected Kuz. We are incredibly proud of his growth as a player. I think he showed in the bubble his ability to play on the wing and the 4 – so a 3 and a little 4 – and When you lose a defender and a wing player like Danny Green, I think Kyle, we’re going to count on him to step in and play some of that wing role as well. But he has the versatility to do it. A great player for us and I hope he continues to grow the next season “.
That still leaves a lot of spots to fill, even if JaVale McGee and Avery Bradley exercise their player options to stay on the team next season.
“Our approach will be to be aggressive,” Pelinka said. “I think there are a handful of teams that are probably hoping to compete or be in position to compete. We are not going to sit around and not wait for others in position to try to upgrade their roster or upgrade their teams. So we have to stay aggressive. I think the danger of winning is complacency, and I will not, we will not let that seep in here. We will try to improve our team and put the coach on [Frank] Vogel and his team in the best possible position to defend. “