LEBRON James is 34 years old. For over half his life, basketball is all he’s known and he’s known it better than almost any other person on Earth. Unfortunately, ‘Father Time’ waits for no one and as he gears up for his 17th NBA season a lot of sceptics are questioning James’ place at the top of the superstar food chain. No longer is his status as the best in the world assumed and the 2020 season might eventuate into the passing of the torch in more aspects than one.
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AS it stands right now, LeBron has played 56,284 minutes of professional basketball with his 10,000+ of playoff minutes alone the most in NBA history. Based on his career averages, if he stays healthy and the Lakers qualify for the postseason then James will likely join Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Karl Malone as the third member of the 60,000-minute club before a new champ is crowned. Aside from the eternal Vince Carter, no other active players have even qualified for the 50,000-minute club, highlighting just how many miles LeBron has on his legs compared to his current peers.
In over half his 16 pro seasons, LeBron has missed five or fewer matches, earning the reputation around the NBA as one of the most consistently durable players we have ever seen. That extreme workload over a decade and a half led to James miss meaningful games for the first time in his career last season, sitting out 17 consecutive contests with a groin complaint he suffered against the Warriors on Christmas Day. While this injury could turn into an anomaly, it’s not fair to expect the aging superstar to continue to perform at this high a level forever.
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AT 34, history would suggest that LeBron still has some fuel left in the tank and until we see him fail to perform at the peak of his powers, I still expect King James to be a walking 27/7/7. Just because he can still contribute doesn’t mean that James should do all the heavy lifting after annually dragging his team to 50+ wins for much of the 21st century. The twilight of his career is set to be very different from his previous campaigns and much like Dwyane Wade did for him back at the start of the decade it might be time for LeBron to take a step backwards.
TRADING for Anthony Davis helps vault the Lakers back into relevance and the star power Davis brings to Tinsletown means LeBron’s number won’t be called as much as it was a year ago. The rest of their list leaves a lot to be desired, but if the two MVP threats can stay on the court (which is no certainty) then L.A. could quickly reestablish their reputation as perennial contenders. When he joined the Heat LeBron and D-Wade had to learn how to co-exist, leading to James establishing himself as Miami’s go-to guy and the star of the team. It would be wise to employ a similar tactic as he did when he switched teams for the first time, with James taking up residence on the other side of the ledger this time and becoming Robin to Ant Davis’ Batman.
RELYING on Davis to carry the workload on the regular is far from a full-proof tactic, with AD managing to feature in 70 or more games just twice in his seven-year NBA tenure thus far. However, reducing the nightly strain on James would be wise considering his age and increased risk of injury, despite the herculean endurance he’s displayed so far. Playing LeBron 70-75 times a season and resting him with regularity not only benefits the Lakers’ chances to have him at full strength for the postseason, but it will allow James to extend his career for as long as possible while he makes a push for his fourth championship ring.
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CEDING power and responsibility to Anthony Davis isn’t the only torch-passing that could occur for James in 2020. For 14 years he finished the season as either a member of the All-NBA first or second team, until last year when he had to settle for a place with the third-stringers. Part of the reason was that LeBron only featured in 55 games a year ago, but the beginning of the end is upon us. NBA GM’s who annually vote on the best player at every position had pencilled James in at the SF spot since 2006, however, Kawhi Leonard broke his streak by polling 62% of the votes this year, dethroning the King who finished second at 26%.
THE league is rich with talent at the moment, with most, if not all of the NBA franchises possessing a star or a player who could grow into one. 10-year old’s are out shopping for Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving or James Harden jersey’s and while LeBron still wins the popularity contest, his grasp on the “best player in the world” title isn’t assured. He’s obviously being docked by some for the Lakers’ shortcomings a year ago, but had he been fit and healthy for a whole season I have faith declaring James would have dragged that motley crew into the postseason. The other illustrious names and faces in the league have bridged the gap now though and as we flirt with the beginning of a new chapter in NBA history, we’re being reminded LeBron won’t heavily feature in the next episode.
COMING off the most rest he’s had in nearly 15 years, there’s a chance James proves the doubters wrong and launches another stereotypical assault on the league while making the L.A. franchise a must-watch affair. He’s looked engaged, switched on and ready to go during the preseason and we all know he can turn it on and be the best player anytime he steps onto the court. However, doing so over a nine-month span isn’t the smartest tactic for his remaining days, especially if he plans to still be around when his son enters the league.
I’M fully on the believer bandwagon and until we see LeBron falter then I expect nothing less than spectacular things and a shit load of W’s. We can pretend that those days aren’t numbered, but the stark reality is that no one before him has successfully nursed such responsibility with so many career minutes/games lodged. Naturally, if he hands over the reins to Anthony Davis then the Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s of the world will only continue to leap-frog him in online rankings and lists across the worldwide web.
IT’S not necessarily a bad thing, with a strategic approach to preserving himself for the games that matter the smartest play to help the Lakers return to championship glory. That won’t make it any easier to read the aforementioned blog posts throughout the coming weeks, months and years and not see James’ name occupying the #1 slot.
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