For anyone under the age of 30, it’s difficult to remember an NBA without LeBron James.
Even before he entered the league, with the internet first circulating news at light speed, word of the next big thing from Akron, Ohio percolated. The now-Laker is entering season No. 21 in the NBA, a feat only five other men have accomplished. Of that group, Dirk Nowitzki is the only one not to play for at least three teams, spending his entire career with the Mavericks. Kevin Willis is the only one who isn’t a Hall of Famer, or a shoe-in to get in on the first ballot. Vince Carter will head to Springfield next year, with Robert Parish, Kevin Garnett and Nowitzki already there. James will be too, don’t worry, he accomplished a career good enough for that more than a decade ago. The one trend that separates James from the rest is he’s not slowing down.
James is the centerpiece for the Lakers. Who took the last shot attempt when Los Angeles got swept by the Nuggets in last year’s Western Conference Finals? James.
In season 21, Parish was on the 1997 Bulls. They had a few other great players. Carter was on the Hawks, and I had to look that up to make sure it was right. So, yeah, that’s how integral Air Canada was in season 21 for Atlanta. Garnett was at the start of the superstar era in Brooklyn, passed in skill by younger whippersnappers. And Willis was Willis, a solid veteran journeyman, who had had made the 1991-92 All-Star team playing beside Dominque Wilkins in Atlanta. Nowitzki played in only 51 games during his final season and averaged a career-low 7.3 points per game. That’s not unusual for those with more than two decades in The Association and makes what James is aiming to do over the next few seasons all the more incredible.
Although James hasn’t played in more than 67 games in a season as a Laker, the goal still exists for him to hit the full 82, like he did in his final year of his second stint in Cleveland. James’ pace doesn’t look to be slowing down, though. He still averaged 28.9 points per game last season. James turns 39 in December and doesn’t look like he’s lost much of a step. And even if James has lost a step, he’s adjusted his game incredibly well to camouflage those weaknesses. Sure, Los Angeles has Anthony Davis, Austin Reeves, and other capable players. But just like the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin, until the day one of the greatest players in their sport’s history retires, it’s his team and everything else, maybe even winning a championship, is secondary.
The future is all about Bronny
Whether Father Time catches up with James this season or not, his retirement tour/schedule is based around his son, Bronny, and them playing together in the NBA. If, when or where that happens is very much up in the air due to the younger James’ health and how he develops on the court at USC, no matter how much pull his GOAT father has. If the NBA’s expansion hands the James family his own team in Las Vegas, he can sign and trade for whomever he wants. Short of that, Bronny will have to earn it like everyone else. It’s completely possible he makes the NBA and plays with his dad, but not guaranteed.
Where the Los Angeles could see a decline from James is on the defensive end. The Lakers taught a masterclass on how to win during the final years of Kobe Bryant’s career, despite their star losing a step on defense. The late Bryant is still one of the best dozen players in NBA history, but being a shutdown defender after age 36 wasn’t his strength. That beautiful scoring touch was. The same may very well be true for LeBron.
James is not invincible and he’s no longer in the top tier of NBA’s stars. Household names where one word can describe them (Jokic, Giannis, Luka, Embiid) have all surpassed him at the moment. That can be true and James can still be incredibly effective. Don’t expect a plummet just because everyone else in the 21-season club had one.
LeBron has done things in his first 20 seasons that no one else has. It shouldn’t be surprising if he continues that trend in year 21.
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