LeBron James has been in the NBA championship conversation for the past 11 years, ever since he was 23 years old, unexpectedly steamrolling the Eastern Conference with a ragtag group of Cleveland Cavaliers teammates. A LeBron-led team has been favored to reach the Finals almost every year since, with the four-time MVP fulfilling those expectations eight times, including each year since 2011. It seems almost unfathomable to have an NBA Finals without LeBron James in it. But, news flash: The King won’t be in the NBA Finals this year.
LeBron probably knew he didn’t have a shot this year. He’s not delusional. So, why even choose to go to a team for a year, knowing there’s not an immediate championship? Because this is the long game. And LeBron knows that he can still add to his legacy, even in what will amount to a lost year for his quest to surpass Michael Jordan’s six-rings bar. While the Lakers are expected to make the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine them reaching the top four seeds in the West. But if LeBron is somehow able to pull this team to home court in the first round, somewhere in the 55-to-60 win range, then he’d be a lock to secure an NBA MVP at age 34. That’s huge and a definite legacy-builder.
The benefit of LeBron’s unselfishness goes beyond the immediacy of making the Lakers better. It also encourages some of these high-profile free agents to team up with him. LeBron has to spend the next year recruiting any of the big-time upcoming free agents, like Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson. The last two are key. If James can lure either of them away from Golden State, he’d finally be able to put a chink in the dynasty, while making his team better. To do that, LeBron has to make the case that teaming up with him is worthwhile, which means this year is as much about looking like he’s building a winning team in Los Angeles as it is their actual wins-and-losses record.
LeBron will still be the biggest story of the season, even if his time on the court ends a few weeks earlier than usual.
It’s easy to assume that LeBron James' decision to go to Los Angeles was about everything but basketball—business opportunities, family, better lighting for his IG selfies—especially considering his team’s chances of winning a title this year. But fear not, LeBron will still be the biggest story of the season, even if his time on the court ends a few weeks earlier than usual. This is far from a lost season for James—if anything, it’ll be the foundation for reaffirming his legacy as he enters the twilight of his NBA career.