Lakers newsletter: Is load management on the horizon for Lakers' stars?
Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times with your Lakers newsletter.
It would be an exaggeration to say the Lakers are firing on all cylinders right now (not to mention a cliche), but they have made the best of the early part of the season.
A looming question for this veteran team is one they haven’t yet begun to really grapple with. Will the Lakers begin employing load management?
Technically speaking, the league doesn’t allow players to simply be rested. That hasn’t stopped the Clippers from twice resting Kawhi Leonard this season. The NBA approved the move after consulting with the Clippers’ medical staff who said Leonard isn’t healthy. The league later fined the team $50,000 after coach Doc Rivers made comments about the situation that contradicted the assessment of Leonard’s injury.
The Lakers could use a similar plan for their stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and I think we all assume they will at some point.
Davis has a shoulder injury that he’s admitted would take four or five days of true rest in order to fully heal. But when I asked Lakers coach Frank Vogel if there was any chance he’d rest Davis in Chicago, he shot down the notion entirely.
He deadpanned: “No. And how dare you.”
I don’t think Vogel likes even thinking about playing a game without Davis, and who can blame him? Even on an off night, Davis ultimately made an impact for the team in Chicago. Unless he injures his shoulder again, the Lakers see little reason to not allow him to keep playing through a little bit of pain.
James was given the “load management” distinction a few times last season after he returned from a groin injury. At the time the Lakers said it was a strain, but James has referred to it as a tear this season. Each time he’s mentioned it lately, he’s said once he returned to play after five weeks off, he was still dealing with a tear.
Vogel was asked at Thursday’s practice about protecting James from overexposure this season.
“Yeah, just every way we can,” Vogel said. “Whether it’s off days in practice or minimize his minutes, minimize his load. There’s some things built in scheme-wise that require him to do — to pass some guys off at certain times. Every way we can.”
So far that hasn’t included resting James. Throughout his 17-year career, James has rarely been interested in resting during games, especially while his team is fighting for playoff position.
The bigger picture with both players, though, is their availability will become much more critical after the regular season.
LeBron’s passion project
The LeBron James Family Foundation announced a pretty remarkable next step to the I Promise School project this week.
They’ve partnered with Graduate Hotels to provide transitional housing a few blocks from the school to families facing homelessness, domestic violence issues and other housing-related challenges. James met the CEO of Graduate Hotels, Ben Weprin, in Cabo San Lucas and the idea to do this began then. Graduate Hotels is a chain of boutique hotels near college campuses.
When I visited the I Promise School last year, one of the counselors there, whose job it is to work with parents of students at the school, mentioned that there were students whose families were homeless. The I Promise School prides itself on taking care of the whole student, not just while they are in class. They have a food bank where families can go shopping. They offer job and GED-related services for the parents of their students. They want to take care of any obstacle their students had that would prevent them from truly taking advantage of education.
Housing is an issue that’s personal for James. He and his mother, Gloria, moved between living locations for part of his childhood. They’d move from home to home, sometimes staying where kind neighbors or friends would let them.
“You can have all the support in the world while you’re at school or while you’re at basketball or while you’re playing sports or doing anything,” James said. “But if you go home and it’s not stable, you don’t have any stability there, you’re gonna resort back to the negative things or the bad habits that you might have. Sometimes it’s not even the kids’ fault of why the situations are the way they are. For us to be able to provide that for our kids and for the families, and the adults as well, the parents, it’s a pretty cool thing.”
Here’s what else happened since last we spoke…
—Last Friday, the Lakers played an instant classic of a game against the Dallas Mavericks — and one that had a metaphorical tint to it. The Lakers sent the game into overtime with a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Danny Green, who had a message about failure. He could hit that shot because of all the times he’d failed and tried again.
—Last year Luka Doncic asked for James’ jersey after the teams played. This year, Doncic matched James’ triple-double with one of his own and received an admiring greeting from his idol. My colleague Broderick Turner examined their nights.
—Kyle Kuzma made his debut in Friday’s game, and learned that he had to be patient with himself.
—There was a time when James was a lock for an NBA All-Defensive team each season, and even competed for defensive player of the year. Lately, that’s not been the case. But James’ defense has been called one of the “great surprises” on the Lakers this season. He’s committed and healthy. He’s been challenged by Vogel and Davis. It’s no accident that the Lakers’ defense has been elite so far.
—Avery Bradley had a really nice game before being kicked in the knee area against the Spurs. He missed Tuesday’s game in Chicago but says he will play unless he has a setback on Friday at home against Miami.
—Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got the start against the Bulls while Bradley recovered. Vogel really has liked his defense. But Caldwell-Pope also had a breakout game offensively in San Antonio.
—For his historic week of play, Davis was named the Western Conference’s player of the week for last week.
—Davis has always been curious and willing to learn from other players. He did it when he was young, and he felt comfortable approaching the game’s greats with questions. He still does it now that he is one of the league’s best players. On Tuesday, he returned to Chicago to show the fruits of that in his hometown.
—The Lakers answered this question against the Bulls on Tuesday: Can they survive if Davis and James are both on the bench? A group of reserves — Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook, Dwight Howard, Troy Daniels and Kuzma — pulled them out of a double-digit deficit. Vogel then turned to Davis and James to close out the game.
—James has notched triple-doubles in three consecutive games. He’s the first Laker to do it since Magic Johnson in 1987.
—Just because the Lakers are on a six-game winning streak doesn’t mean they don’t have areas of improvement. They know it and promise they won’t get complacent.
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