James did much of the ballhandling in Cleveland, but Johnson doesn't want the superstar to bear the same burden in Los Angeles.
Magic Johnson doesn't want the Los Angeles Lakers to use LeBron James in the same way the Cleveland Cavaliers did, the Lakers president reiterated Thursday in an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio.
"We are trying to make sure that we watch his minutes but also that we don't run everything through him because now it is Cleveland all over again and we don't want that," Johnson said. "We want to get up and down."
Johnson has always hoped to lighten James's load with Los Angeles in comparison to the heavy lifting he did for the Cavaliers, articulating a desire to keep longevity in mind for 33-year-old James as soon as he signed the NBA star to a four-year, $154 million deal this summer. Johnson said Thursday his team has enough ballhandlers to minimize the play-making pressure put on James, who did much of the ballhandling in Cleveland, and talented shooters who can also contribute.
"Basically minutes, trying to make sure we don't overplay him and then also usage of the ball in his hands," Johnson told SiriusXM NBA Radio. "We got a lot of ballhandlers so we feel we won't overuse him in terms of his ballhandling and also every play has to run through him. I think we got proven scorers—Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram [...] and then when you have two point guards like [Lonzo] Ball and [Rajon] Rondo, we don't have to have LeBron having the ball in his hands all the time."
The Lakers signed Rondo this summer to help ease the burden on James by adding another floor general to the roster. They also added shooting guard Lance Stephenson, another veteran, to the team with the same intention.
Rondo suffered a broken hand during a game against the Trail Blazers on Nov. 14, which added some additional playmaking to James's role, but the Lakers still have other young facilitators to help the 14-time All-Star.
James is averaging a career-low 34.8 minutes per game this season with a usage rate of 31.2, which ranks 11th in the NBA this season for those who have played in at least 12 games. That number is down from his 35.0 usage rate during the 2017-18 NBA playoffs. The three-time NBA champion is also averaging 27.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.7 assists so far in his 16th season.
The Lakers take on the Pacers Thursday night. Tip off is set for 10:30 p.m. ET.