Envisioning a NBA Finals without LeBron James is not easy. Like trying to imagine biscuits without gravy or the Fourth of July without a frightening bottle rocket incident. But envision it, we must.
For, while James made the perfectly logical lifestyle decision to move from Cleveland to Los Angeles, he did little to advance his professional goals. In fact, by moving to a much tougher competitive neighborhood in the West, James has pretty much seen to it that he’ll be available for commentary work come the next championship series. His omnipresence in the Finals – which has stretched over the last eight seasons – is over. As done as the land line.
And the prognosis for James winning one more title over the four-year course of his Lakers contract is not better than 50-50. I’d suggest worse than that. And no matter that Las Vegas knee-jerked and immediately bumped the Lakers odds on winning it all in 2019 from 16-to-1 to 7-to-2 after the James signing. You’ve seen Las Vegas. You want to trust anything that comes out of there?
It’s not only a question of what the Lakers surround James with. Although, that is a pretty good question. Magic Johnson has brought in an odd assortment around the new King of L.A., from the rough-edged Lance Stephenson to the diminished and well-traveled Rajon Rondo (on his sixth team in six seasons). Barring a Kawhi Leonard sighting in L.A., the Lakers have pieced together a quilt of burlap scraps, neither pretty to look at nor particularly warming.
But it’s also right to question how much longer James’ own ability to deliver a championship remains intact. He turns 34 this season. And while he was brilliant at 33 – the MVP, regardless of what was printed on the award announcement – the calendar is the most tenacious defender.
The guy’s got more mileage on him than a Cuban taxi. Sooner or later, that has to start showing. Doesn’t it?
Look at other recent Lakers golden ages. Magic Johnson was 28 when he won his last title in L.A. Shaquille O’Neal was 30 in his final Lakers championship. Kobe Bryant 31, with the body of someone much older.
Michael Jordan won his last title at 35.
There just comes the inevitable age when every actor goes from heroic lead to supporting part. The James window of dominance is closing.
Give James credit for this much, though: He’ getting much better at moving on. This time he left Cleveland with one championship memory before leaving for somebody prettier.
This relocation is much so less obnoxious than the one to South Beach – it couldn’t help but be. All he had to do was make it somewhat less pretentious than a royal coronation and it beat the Miami move.
What was unconvincing about the move, though, was the notion that James is any closer to beating Golden State than he was a month ago when he beat a brusque retreat from the court in Cleveland.
Here’s a prop bet, involving the most compelling athletes of our time. Or at least a question worth a few wasted minutes at any bar: Who is going to win his next championship of any kind: James or Tiger Woods?
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