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Here’s the year that LeBron James haters have been waiting for. This is first true opportunity to take a shot at James since he and the Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. The discussion has recently surrounded James’ inability to get the Los Angeles Lakers to the playoffs. Let’s face it, after losing to the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers have almost no shot at making the postseason. At this point, they probably shouldn’t. Of course, detractors are blaming James for the Lakers recent struggles. And you know what, they’re not all wrong.
The one thing I really look for in basketball players is the ability to play defense. If you can play defense, then you will make it on a roster. Even if your jump shot is terrible, if you can play defense you will have a shot. That’s always been my mentality. So there’s nothing more annoying when a player with all of the physical gifts in the world decides to not play defense. I’ve long asserted that James has the ability to play defense whenever he wants to and that he’s been an elite defender in the past, but there was a recent stretch where he wasn’t even interested in thinking about defense. Granted, against the Milwaukee Bucks James put on a much better showing, but there were so many times in other games where he was just standing and watching.
There has been speculation that James hasn’t fully recovered from the groin injury that sidelined him for 18 games earlier this year. If that’s the case then I want someone to come out and confirm it. Because right now it just looks like a case of James taking time off and on the court. I will say that many great basketball players such as Devin Booker, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Kemba Walker aren’t good defenders, but we’ve seen James play great defense before. He’s made five All-Defensive 1st Teams during his career. In comparison, that last four players to win the league MVP, Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant, have zero combined All-Defensive selections. I’ve never seen those guys be the best defenders in the league, but I know James can be, so I have a problem with him slacking off.
Yes, this will play into how James is remembered. Right now, he’s trending down in some people’s minds. I even saw a debate on a sports show about whether James was still a top ten player in the league a little while ago. While that’s a ridiculous conversation to even have, and I’m not surprised coming from what show it was, this whole scenario is unfolding the way it is because it’s the most recent thing we remember. While James’ legacy is in one of the several divots it’s hit during his 16-year career, it will be really easy for him to climb out of it next season if the Lakers do well. Case in point, do you remember when James was hitting buzzer beaters last postseason? How about how he destroyed the Toronto Raptors? Or do you remember the praise he was getting when the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in the Finals a few years ago? Some people were saying he’d topped Michael Jordan at the time.
We have short memories and the biggest thing we use to judge people is, “what have you done lately?” Well, lately James and the Lakers have been in a free fall thanks to both parties not living up to their full potential. If James takes the Lakers to the Finals or even just the Conference Finals next season though, all will be forgiven. It’s crazy listening to sports radio and TV because people flip-flop every couple of months. That’s what we’re seeing now. So yeah, year-one in LA has been a complete letdown. It didn’t help that the team went 12-6 while James was injured, but bigger things are expected of a LeBron led team. We’ve come to accept that over the years.
Anyway, this offseason will be really telling. Supposedly the Lakers will be adding some top-shelf talent to finally give James another All-Star to play with. That’s when the expectations will really begin to rise. Remember, this was supposed to be a down year for LA, I just don’t think James or Lakers fans actually expected to be as bad as they were and miss the playoffs entirely. While this year will go down as one of James’ worst, both in terms of team performance and personal health, he can easily erase the blemish with big results in the 2019-20 season.
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