INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- From the very outset of last season’s training camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James called his lower back “iffy” and found ways to reduce his workload as the Cavs navigated a handful of two-a-day practices, plus a preseason schedule.
It turned out to be a harbinger of things to come for James, as he missed a career-high 13 games during the regular season because of not only his back, but also from strains to his wrist, knees and ankles.
Yet as he enters into what will be his 13th season with his 31st birthday coming up in December, James isn’t going into the year with the assumption that he’ll have to sacrifice games to stay healthy.
“I just think it happened that way last year,” James said after Cavs practice Friday. “I don’t think that’s something I look to do every year. I don’t like sitting those games out, but I went through a course last year where I had to physically, mentally [rest] for those two weeks I sat out. Those were the majority of the games [missed]. I think it was eight or nine games throughout that two-week process. So, I don’t like sitting out games. I’m not a big fan of it. I like being out on the floor, but we’ll see what happens.”
During NBA TV’s live broadcast of Cavs training camp Thursday, the network displayed a graphic showing just how brutal James’ workload has been recently. In the past five seasons, James has played 18,135 minutes between the regular season and playoffs combined. The number leads the league over that time frame by a wide margin, with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant coming in second with 15,595 minutes. Durant, mind you, is nearly four years younger than James.
“I’ve always tried to manage my body, and like I said, I’m hard-headed at times, but I got to do a better job of understanding how many minutes I’ve played, how many miles I’ve logged and things of that nature over my career,” James said. “You know, I want to be there when it counts most, so I got to be very smart about it. I think our coaching and our training staff will also be smart about it, as well, and we have a game plan going into this season.”
"I want to be there when it counts most, so I got to be very smart about it." LeBron James
One way the Cavs will clearly plan to give James a break is in the minutes department. He played a career-low 36.1 minutes per game a season ago, and he seemed to be inviting that number to dip even lower when he said on media day that Kevin Love’s emergence should give him a chance to sit more often. Cleveland also added veteran swingman Richard Jefferson to back up James at small forward, and any combination of Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Joe Harris and James Jones can also play that spot in a pinch.
James challenged himself last month by going through intense three-a-day workouts five days a week. He appears to be starting this season off with a cleaner bill of health than he did a year ago.
“It’s just about getting my body geared toward getting towards the season,” James said. “I always like to stay in shape, even in the offseason, and this September I wanted to be even a little bit more in shape to see how my body would [react]. Coming into camp, I feel pretty good. Obviously great, those [days of] feeling great, feeling-great days are kind of over, but I feel great -- as good as I can -- coming into training camp. So, it’s just pushing the envelope for myself always. I want to try to push the envelope and see what I can do.”