Le­Bron, LA need pre­sea­son time to mesh

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NFL - Martin Rogers

LOS AN­GE­LES – On Sun­day we will find out just how in­ter­ested, or un­in­ter­ested, Le­Bron James is in the Lak­ers’ slate of pre­sea­son games. Itch­ing to see the game’s big­gest star play some mean­ing­ful min­utes in pur­ple and gold? Don’t hold your breath.

Or, at least, wait a cou­ple of more weeks.

James not only doesn’t see much per­sonal value in the col­lec­tion of ex­hi­bi­tion games that will warm things up be­fore the 82 games that truly mat­ter be­gin on Oct. 18, he also doesn’t have much ap­petite for talk­ing about them for longer than an oc­ca­sional snip­pet.

Head coach Luke Wal­ton said James will have a role when the Lak­ers take on the Nuggets in San Diego on Sun­day and would play “be­tween one and 48 min­utes.” Bank on it be­ing closer to one than 48, much closer.

“Last year I pretty much didn’t play the whole pre­sea­son be­sides one half,” James told re­porters this week. “So I have no idea. I don’t even know how many games we have. I’m not go­ing to play that much min­utes.”

James has had lim­ited in­volve­ment in prior pre­sea­sons, so this shouldn’t come as too much of a sur­prise. In Cleve­land last sea­son, he took to the floor one time. A year be­fore that, it was three brief ap­pear­ances. This time, how­ever, a dras­ti­cally short­ened sched­ule could be a mis­take.

For this is a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion from any James has faced be­fore. Yes, he’s 33, and con­serv­ing as much en­ergy as pos­si­ble is prac­ti­cal. Yes, the cam­paign is painfully long and un­de­ni­ably gru­el­ing.

But there is an al­tered nar­ra­tive in James’ Cal­i­for­nia ad­ven­ture. This, as he, Wal­ton and all the se­nior fig­ures at the club never tire of stat­ing, is a young team that needs time to grow.

It needs to grow … with James. Le­Bron isn’t go­ing to learn any­thing new from a cou­ple of pre­sea­son games, and he knows ex­actly how to get him­self into the op­ti­mum shape. But his team­mates need reps, the kind of reps that don’t just gen­er­ate a nice sweat but ac­tively repli­cate game sce­nar­ios, be­cause play­ing with James is un­like any sit­u­a­tion they have been ex­posed to be­fore.

For many of them it will lead to ex­tra free­dom and more open looks, given the amount of at­ten­tion James al­ways com­mands. It will in­evitably lead to a new level of ex­pec­ta­tions, es­pe­cially those de­manded by No. 23. Play­ers such as Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma will need to be aware of James’ move­ments and nu­ances, given that a Le­Bron-led team has more of a flex­i­ble sys­tem than any other.

There are other rea­sons, too, that re­late to the court in only a tan­gen­tial way. No one is sug­gest­ing that James or Wal­ton should make de­ci­sions based on what the fan base wants, though the fact re­mains that Le­Bron-ma­nia is alive and well in Los An­ge­les right now.

If things start slowly once the sea­son be­gins, it could all get a bit flat, es­pe­cially if the fans lose be­lief early. L.A. isn’t ex­actly known for hav­ing the most pa­tient of au­di­ences. The core sup­port, the kind of hard-core fans who will turn out even for a pre­sea­son game, need to be kept on their side.

No one is sug­gest­ing here that James plays all six pre­sea­son games. Or even logs par­tic­u­larly heavy min­utes. How­ever, some kind of le­git­i­mate in­volve­ment that in­volves more than a fleet­ing cameo and a watch­ing eye from the side­line would send out the right kind of mes­sage.

Even if that doesn’t hap­pen, let’s keep things in per­spec­tive. Even if he skipped the en­tire pre­sea­son, it wouldn’t be be­cause he’s “gone Hol­ly­wood,” as one tele­vi­sion loud­mouth likes to sug­gest. It would be be­cause he wants to pre­serve his en­er­gies for what could be a long sea­son.

Ex­cept, it might not be any­where near as long as he hopes if he and the team don’t quickly get on the same page.

“For my­self, just try to get a lit­tle bit of rhythm, but more im­por­tantly for our con­ti­nu­ity as a team,” James said. “We are a team that just got to­gether. Any lit­tle bit of time we get on the floor to­gether will help.”

It sounds like he gets it. Time to act upon it.

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