The Lakers are sitting squarely at a .500 winning percentage and have flat out not met the lofty expectations that their star-heavy roster had set for them. When the roster was being worked out, the presence of Russell Westbrook was intended to mitigate the workload on 36-year-old LeBron James.
From day one, the minutes per game for James were supposed to be lower than the previous years. This has not been the case. It's gone quite the opposite. For the 2021-22 season thus far, James is playing 36.9 minutes per game. This is the highest mark for James since the 2017-18 season when James was playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel put on his best poker face by saying the minutes for James weren't a concern.
“We’re always monitoring his load and just being intelligent with it. Obviously the overtime games are what they are. He’s going to be in there for those, but like you said, he has missed some time. The totality is I think less of a concern than if he played a triple-overtime game and then you played the next night, do you exercise caution in those instances? It’s just something that literally we monitor on a daily basis. We rely on the medical team and feedback on how he’s feeling and make smart decisions.”
If coach Vogel's quote isn't a bluff, it's probably because James has only played in half the games so far this season. The Lakers have played 24 games and James has played in only 12 of them. James missed one game to a COVID-19 issue, but the rest have been from injuries. This alone is concerning, but when your team's best player has only played in half the games, it's difficult to expect a deep playoff run. If James ramps up to play most of the Lakers games down the stretch, playing nearly 37 minutes at age 37 is not ideal.
As it was planned from day one, the Lakers superstars (Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis) are going to have to carry the Lakers in long stretches. The bench needs to be healthy, and the role players need to perform.