PORTLAND, Ore. — As LeBron James embarks on his 16th season when the Los Angeles Lakers open their season against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, the three-time champion is imploring Luke Walton to keep him on the court.
“I’m always fresh,” James said after shootaround Thursday morning. “All my coaches want to figure out a way of how to lessen my minutes. I keep telling them I’m strong enough to play most minutes, but they won’t listen to me, so, it’s OK. I like it.”
Earlier this week, Walton said he would play James a “reasonable” amount of minutes this season. Last year, James led the league at 36.9 minutes per game.
But that doesn’t mean Walton will keep James on the bench too often.
“LeBron will play a lot of minutes, yes,” Walton said Thursday. “It will be a consistent theme for us this year.”
James will turn 34 in December and played sparingly in the preseason, but Walton said his star hasn’t shown any signs of aging.
“I told him … that his legs seem to be getting younger as training camp goes on,” Walton said. “It normally works the other way. But he’s jumping higher, he’s moving quicker the more we get out there and play. So it’s like I said: There’s one game tonight. We’re obviously excited to be playing regular-season games now, but he looks very good.”
Walton also commented on the mentality James has brought to the Lakers’ young core.
“He’s good,” Walton said. “He’s a pretty serious guy, but there’s moments of laughter and joy mixed in. But he’s got that locked-in look.”
It would appear that for the first time in nearly a decade, James’ team isn’t considered a lock to compete for a championship. But that hasn’t affected his mental approach to the season and striving for a fourth ring.
“It’s just my goal. It’s always been my goal … maybe the last 10 or 11 years where I felt like it’s championships,” James said. “I want to win championships, and putting my mind into that and thinking about it. I think when you have championship habits, you have championship thoughts, and things come into fruition.
“Obviously there’s only one champion at the end of the road, and you can’t dictate wins and losses, things of that nature, but you can approach every day like a champion. And if you do that, you put yourself in a position to be successful. Either individually or as a team, or whatever the case is.”