INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — With less than a week to go before the Cleveland Cavaliers tip off the season in Chicago, there is some doubt regarding LeBron James’ playing status.
James did not practice Friday, and it has now been more than a week since he has been able to fully participate in training camp since receiving an anti-inflammatory injection in his lower back on Oct. 13.
James, a 13-year veteran, has yet to be cleared to join the Cavs in live action, although he has been incrementally increasing his workload in the past week, according to the team.
“Is it by choice?” James asked of being held out. “No, it’s not. But it’s the schedule I’m on, and I’m trying to listen to the training staff and not be hard-headed, and I’m going with them. When they tell me I’m cleared to practice, I’ll practice.”
The shot was the second one James has received in the past 10 months. James, who turns 31 in December, has played more than 43,000 minutes in the regular season and playoffs combined in his career and was the league leader in that category by a significant margin over the past five seasons. He did not rule out the possibility of needing another shot this season.
“We have it set up to where if I need it, we can do it again,” James said. “Hopefully it don’t come to that, but it’s a possibility, but that’s all part of the process. It’s there if we need it.”
On Monday, Cavs coach David Blatt said James would “absolutely be ready” for the season opener. Cleveland general manager David Griffin also expressed confidence in James’ potential to play, but entertained the possibility of that not happening.
“I don’t think that there’s any reason that he won’t play on Tuesday,” Griffin said. “We have no reason to believe that, but we also are of the mindset that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he didn’t play on Tuesday. We just want him to get better every day, and he has been, and he’s been progressing and feeling like we’d like him to feel.”
James, for his part, said he would face the Bulls “if everything goes right” with his rehabilitation.
“We still, we feel like we’re progressing really well, and if we can continue to do that, then I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to go,” James said.
James missed a career-high 13 games last season and played a career-low 36.1 minutes. Griffin said that despite the state of James’ back, James reported to training camp in better shape than he did a season ago.
“He’s in radically better shape than he was last year just in terms of his overall strength and what he is able to do when he plays is significantly advanced of where he was last year at the same stage,” Griffin said. “So we’re actually really optimistic. I don’t know if it’s dealing with his own mortality as much as it is just the maturity of [recognizing] the grind of the year.”
Blatt also referenced the lengthy season ahead as something the team is factoring in when it comes to managing James.
“Obviously, anyone that has played the number of games and has the amount of mileage on their back that he does, you’ve got to take into consideration how you’re going to manage minutes and how you’re going to manage games in order to allow him to stay as fresh as possible,” Blatt said. “That’s something we’re constantly, constantly looking at and constantly talking to him about, too.”
The Cavs have two more practices scheduled before flying to Chicago on Monday for their game against the Bulls on Tuesday. Griffin was asked what needs to happen for James to be medically cleared to get back on the court.
“I think in order to just feel really comfortable cutting him loose, we want to see him do a few more things from a strength standpoint and from a just an overall preventative maintenance standpoint,” Griffin said. “Really this comes down to more than anything else just keeping him from putting miles on himself. And that’s really hard to do. Because like I said, if it was up to him, he’d be here 2-3 times a day already. So we’re really just trying to dial him back more than anything else.”