LeBron James, as we know him, has won his last NBA Championship
In the wake of an NBA season charged by the greatness of the Golden State Warriors, which was capped off by their defeat of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to become NBA champions, I can’t help but look to the NBA’s landscape moving forward. My initial assessment: Things do not look good from LeBron James’ perspective.
Let me be clear, this is not set out to bash LeBron James. It’s probably closer to the opposite. I respect the hell out of LeBron James, he’s the greatest player since Jordan and is the best player in the NBA today. But that isn’t enough anymore. A lot of focus has been paid to the fact that LeBron James now has a Finals record of 3-5 in his career after Monday night’s loss. This is definitely worthy of attention, but I’d like to take it one step further and say that I don’t believe LeBron James will capture another Championship. Here’s why:
The Golden State Warriors
This 2016/17 installment of the Warriors may be one of the greatest teams ever assembled. In spite of their lack of that true “Big Man”, they’ve managed to dominate on both ends of the floor (1st/2nd in Offensive/Defensive ratings this past season) through their quick strike, lights out shooting offense and smothering defense. This team finished their regular season 67-15 and cruised through the playoffs to a 16-1 record (they actually finished the year on a 31-2 run). This playoff feat is really only comparable to the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers (15-1) and 1983 Philadelphia 76ers (12-1). All of this just one season after setting the NBA regular season wins record at 73-9. The point being, these Warriors are GREAT and there doesn’t seem to be an end to their dominance in sight. The importance of star power in the NBA is huge, and the Warriors have a core of four All-Stars no team can come close to matching. The scariest part of it being, they’re all still fairly young. Steph Curry (29), Kevin Durant (28), Draymond Green (27), and Klay Thompson (27) are still in their primes and as a result, free agents will constantly be flocking to have a chance to play with them.
This team has all the makings to potentially be a dynasty. This sets up a major roadblock between LeBron and his Championship aspirations for years to come, even if he is to make it out of the “easy” Eastern Conference and into the Finals. Which leads to the next point, that may not be as easy as it once was.
The Improving East:
The Boston Celtics lead the charge in challenging LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference in the coming years. The Celtics just came off of a season where they won the East, and although they didn’t put up much of a fight to the Cavs in the Conference Finals this season, they’re set up better than any team in the East to win in the near future. The Celtics have a great combination of current stars (Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford), role players (Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder etc.) and young, talented lottery picks. GM Danny Ainge has set this team up to make some exciting moves as they possess the first overall pick in this year’s draft and could use a couple of those young players to make a major move. It’s no surprise that the Celtics are considered front-runners to land Utah Jazz All-Star Gordon Hayward this offseason in free agency, as the team understands the great position they’re in.
With Head Coach Brad Stevens at the helm, this Celtics team should prove to be a big issue for LeBron and the Cavs.
The East has been a cake walk to the finals for LeBron these last 7 years, as the conference has been clearly inferior to its counterparts in the West. But moving forward, in addition to the Celtics, the Washington Wizards core is pretty solid too with the electric John Wall and Bradley Beal backcourt combination. The collection of talented teams led by young superstar players like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers also look as if they will soon break through and start knocking on the door in the Eastern Conference. The East is shaping up to be tougher competition than it has been in a long time, and it’s all happening as LeBron moves towards the inevitable decline in production due to his age. It’s only going to be more difficult from here.
Basketball is not a sport that cooperates well with an aging body. Despite a lack of injury history throughout his career, LeBron seems bound for regression at some point because of the record-setting amounts of mileage being placed on his body. He’s currently second all-time in career playoff minutes (9,127) and 28th in regular season minutes played (41,272). The most notable of this being that 40,000 minute threshold. According to this article only four Hall of Famers (Jordan, Kareem, Malone and Wilt) have ever…EVER made an All-Star appearance after that career minutes played mark.
A reminder: LeBron James will turn 33 this December, and while he may seem super-human now, Father Time definitely has a much better record in this sort of situation. It seems inevitable a deterioration or decline of some kind is on its way. Let’s look at it this way – LeBron James has played over 50,000 minutes combined between playoffs and regular season in his career (only 17 other players have ever done that), Shaq hit 50,000 while with the Celtics and Paul Pierce did with the Wizards. Those aren’t exactly the points in time of their careers where they were dominating and leading teams to championships. Now that being said, it’s incredible what James has managed to do. But given how condensed it has all been, it suggests it will come to an end.
This all may sound crazy after LeBron became the first player ever to do this:
But shouldn’t that prove the point? What more can this guy actually do? His current supporting cast in Cleveland isn’t good enough, and with the competition in front of him today I don’t believe it ever will be (The Tristan Thompson and J.R Smith contracts certainly don’t help). The argument that “LeBron will leave and form another super team” or “The Cavs just need to trade for Paul George” doesn’t sit well with me. Those things don’t mean automatic Championship. They take time and the perfect example of that is the early disappointments of LeBron’s Heat team. Golden State is an anomaly because the stars grew together and became a cohesive unit over TIME and then added Kevin Durant to that pre-existing mix. But what LeBron James doesn’t have much of is just that, time. LeBron’s incredible performances will not be able to keep up for long enough for him to find his way to another championship.
To sum this up more simply, these are the few major things contributing to why I believe this will be the case.
- LeBron is the best player in the league, but his team isn’t good enough to beat the best.
- He is not going to be the best player in the league much longer.
- The pathway to the Finals will only begin to present itself as more difficult.
I’m not ruling out the possibility that James finds his way to a championship in his final years as a complimentary piece in his older age. But the days of LeBron leading his team to the top, as we’ve known him previously, are over. The King will always be The King, but only three crowns will accompany him on his throne when all is said and done.