https twitter com TheAthletic status 1029421933039742976 Balancing the…

Balancing the goals of keeping LeBron fresh for the short (and long) haul while heavily prioritizing the playoffs is no picnic. The Western Conference ain’t getting any easier, as I count 11 teams with a realistic shot at the postseason. (While I’m not among them, there are people who believe in the Grizzlies staying healthy, which could raise the total to 12.) There will be few cakewalks, which adds urgency to every outcome. This will be a fight for a franchise desperate to end a playoff drought.

Still, desperation can’t create shortsightedness. There will certainly be times when LeBron must push 40 minutes to win a game of significance, and if these spots are picked judiciously, fine. But if killing LeBron over 82 games is required to simply make the playoffs, that hell for the sake of optics isn’t worth it. Yes, another missed playoffs would be embarrassing, but even worse would be your franchise face ground to ashes in service of a team that couldn’t make noise should they steal an eight seed. (Again, I remind everyone about the story of Kobe and his Achilles.)

To be clear, I don’t anticipate this outcome. The young core is much readier for prime time than typically given credit, and in particular, Brandon Ingram will be an asset. A brutal conference will inevitably create standings tighter than The J.B.’s. Teams will cannibalize each other, but I believe the Lakers will succeed enough to prevent too much anxiety.

With that in mind, the Lakers hopefully can not only reduce LeBron’s minutes but also have the luxury of implementing them with purpose. In a perfect world, the lion’s share of run will come alongside Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. In part because, along with Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, these are the best Lakers, and therefore best equipped to make LeBron’s life easier. But also because playing him with the kids allows the front office to gather the most information while deducing which youngsters operate best with LeBron, then make whatever future moves accordingly.

But any future for the Lakers looks brightest if LeBron continues breaking Father Time’s ankles. That’s no easy task to begin with, but the quest will be greatly aided by placing an onus on reduced minutes.