INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- We could be seeing less of LeBron James moving forward.
James topped the 40-minute plateau in seven of theCleveland Cavaliers' first nine games, with his 39.1 minutes per game average ranking third in the NBA behind Oklahoma City's Reggie Jackson (41.4) and Chicago's Jimmy Butler (40.3).
He said after practice Tuesday that it might be time for him to cut down on that playing time.
"I wouldn't mind it," James said. "I think we have to give our guys on the bench more of an opportunity. I looked at a stat and myself,Kyrie (Irving) and Kevin (Love)are three of the top five guys in the league in minutes per game and that has to come down."
Indeed, Irving (38.4 minutes per game) and Love (37.0) rank fourth and fifth behind James.
"For me, I don't want to do that all year," James said. "Obviously right now it's difficult because we're trying to find a groove, we're trying to find a rhythm and we're trying to implement something that you don't want to shortcut it, but at the same time you want to be smart about it. So, I don't mind giving a few of my minutes up just to help the team, to help my minutes go down. I think it would be for the best."
Part of the reason that James has been logging so many minutes is Shawn Marion, brought in this summer in part to play back-up small forward behind James, has been moved to the starting lineup in order to shore up the Cavs' struggling defense.
All of the playing time for the Cavs' Big Three has paid off in their scoring averages -- James is second in the league at 27.1 points per game, Irving is 11th at 22.1 and Love is 37th at 17.4 -- but it's hurt the development of the team's second unit. Cleveland averages just 23.9 bench points per game, putting them 29th -- or second to last -- in the league.
During the preseason, Cavs coach David Blatt said that "39 minutes is a lot" when considering James' 39.5 career average in minutes played.
He went on to add "We got to keep our wits about us in terms of thinking long term with LeBron." On another occasion during training camp Blatt admitted he "could" sit James out a game or two during the regular season to allow for rest.
Blatt revisited the idea of minute management Tuesday.
"I really think that it might be a good idea for our guys to play some shorter stretches harder rather than longer stretches," James said. "And we're going to see how we can incorporate that philosophy."
James played less than 30 minutes in one game this season, sitting out the fourth quarter of the Cavs' 127-94 rout of the Atlanta Hawks. After the game he said the benefit of him ending his night early was more about everyone on the team, guys No. 1-15, getting to play, than it was about him parsing down his playing time.
Blatt said he has tried to model James' substitution patterns -- when he goes in and when he comes out -- based on the All-Star forward's previous 11 seasons in the league.
"With that, we've been pretty consistent with how LeBron's played throughout his career," Blatt said. "I just wanted to keep him at a comfort level that he is familiar with and that he functions well in. That's the main thing."
James said he knows that can't always be scripted because every game is unpredictable.
"For me it's however the game is going because I've kind of played the whole third quarter sometimes and it's been a long stretch, so that's allows me to get the first couple minutes (of the fourth quarter) off," James said. "And like a few games ago, I asked to come out early in the third. I got tired and then I could come back and start the fourth. So, it all depends. But, seeing how the first half goes and watching my minutes throughout that course and then being able to gauge it from there helps."
As recently as Saturday prior to the Atlanta win, Blatt acknowledged the issue.
"Not overly concerned right now with the minutes that some guys are playing, but I am, and we are cognizant of the fact and desiring of the possibility of lowering those minutes as we go forward, at least for a good part of the season," Blatt said. "And we will adjust to that as much as possible and where possible because it's important. We are cognizant of that fact."
However, he dismissed any problem with James' minutes specifically.
"Right now LeBron has said and has told me that he's feeling good and he's starting to feel his real game shape," Blatt said Saturday. "So this is not the time to think about resting him. He's feeling good. This is the time to allow him to get comfortable and to get in his rhythm. And he's been playing great basketball. Let's not overlook the fact that he's been playing great basketball and he looks good physically. He looks excellent.
"So, for the foreseeable future, we're going to ride that. Would I like to get him a couple less minutes per game? Yes. And that really has to do with how we're playing, how we're doing game to game. But down the line, if that's a necessity, then like anything else we'll weigh it and we'll consider it and we'll do what's best for the team and for the player."