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  • Writer's pictureEvan Woods

LeBron's Legacy: At the Top of the Mountain

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

"Job's not done." - A phrase that repeatedly flowed from LeBron when answering any questions about the Finals before its' conclusion. As he echoed the words of the late Kobe Bryant, he made sure everyone who heard believed it. It didn't matter how the media were giving Miami no chance after their injuries; LeBron wanted to remind reporters, his team, and even himself, that the job is not done until the trophy is lifted. And lifted it was, and done was the job. Despite the heartbreak of Kobe's death, a suspended season, and isolation from friends and family while in the bubble, ¹ the Lakers were the last team standing and won their franchise's 17th NBA Finals, tied for most all time. This particular championship meant a lot more than those of past years, and of course, LeBron was in the middle of it all. This, his 4th championship, will mark a new chapter in LeBron's career - and the mark the beginning of his descent from the mountain he created. Let me explain.


First things first: I know I was high on the Heat pulling off the upset, but realistically I always knew what the outcome would inevitably be. The Lakers had the better team on paper with one the greatest players of all time, and the stars just seemed to align with Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragić not being at 100% for the entire series. Funny how those things work out. Anyway, despite the Heat's best efforts, ² LeBron averaged nearly a triple double in the finals, with heavy contributions from Anthony Davis and an unlikely Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. It was too much for Heat to overcome, especially with a decimated line-up. So, bad luck for the Heat, but that's just the way it goes in sports. But that shouldn't take away from the championship and what it means for LeBron's legacy. In fact it should strengthen it.


³ LeBron is now the only player to ever win 3 Finals MVPs with 3 different teams. That alone is insane. Just to make it to that amount of Finals is one thing, but add in the fact that the hardware came with 3 different teams is unprecedented. But that's not the only outrageous Finals' stat from LeBron. ⁴ He has now played in 51 of the last 57 Finals games. Absurd constancy. Sure, LeBron only won 38.6% of those games, but that still equated to 4 rings, and there are thousands of former and current players that would take that winning percentage any day. The argument will always be that LeBron's Finals record will never be perfect like Mike's, but I'm not touching that debate, so let's look at some other numbers. ⁵ LeBron is #2 in all time Finals points, ⁶ #2 in all time Finals assists, ⁷ and #4 in all time Finals rebounds.* He is the only player in NBA History to be in the top 4 of these categories in the Finals. So even when his team isn't winning, LeBron was still doing his part. I say all of this to hammer home this point: The basketball community shouldn't get so caught up in the amount of rings a player has - it matters what they do while they're in the finals. Hell, look at Danny Green. He, too, just won his 3rd (second consecutive) title with as many teams, and you don't see anyone hyping him up about it. Patrick McCaw has 3 championships under his belt, and I bet you couldn't even tell me what team he's on. Sure, rings are indicative of success, but it shouldn't be the only way to evaluate the excellence of a player's career. But now we must take a real hard look at LeBron and his future. He says he has a ton left in the tank, and I believe him - but he's not getting any younger. Aging doesn't necessarily mean a decline in performance, but it does imply a decline of athleticism, and it will mean LeBron will need to make some adjustments. So now that we have propped LeBron up a little bit, let's knock him down a couple of pegs.


Look, I'm no LeBron hater. I love the guy - my wife and I even named our dog after him. There is no way to deny his greatness on or off the court. But from a basketball standpoint, Father Time is catching up with him. Incredibly after all these years, he is still currently at the hight of his career, but next year he'll be 36 and it'll be his 18th season in the league. Think about it: LeBron will have been in the NBA for the same amount of time in his life that he wasn't. That's a whole lot of miles on those legs. At the peak of basketball's Mount Olympus, he's been able to accomplish so much in his career that I can't even begin to list them all. Truthfully, he really doesn't have to prove himself anymore, which is why I believe LeBron will finally slowly begin descending down that mountain. If he wants to stick around in the league long enough to play with his son like he wants to, we will need to see a very different LeBron. At this age, those knees and that back won't be able to carry the load of a 6'8, 250lb juggernaut for much longer. LeBron will need to play lower to the ground and focus more on passing and playing hard defense, rather than jumping over his opponents or out-running them down the court. He'll need to continue to be the primary facilitator, but LeBron will need to rely on Anthony Davis even more in the years to come. And, with all the players set to leave the Lakers this offseason to free agency, the front office will need to find another high-caliber player for LeBron to lean on. My guess is that the Lakers will look to find a playmaking guard, and a sneaky choice for them would be to sign Fred VanVleet. If that doesn't pan out, they could hit the trade block and see if they can land a big fish. I know trades get complex with the salary cap and what not, but all that to the side, I could see them trying to deal for guys like Bradley Beal or Victor Oladipo, who have both expressed the desire to leave their current team. Or, they could go after LeBron's banana-boat buddy Chris Paul. But since Paul has one of worst contracts in all of basketball, it may be worth waiting for him to hit free agency in 2022. Laker's GM Rob Pelinka is really going to have to play Tetris with the Laker's roster if they want a chance to repeat next year, and surrounding an aging LeBron with young fire-power will be essential.


Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying LeBron is washed. We may never see a true decline in him like we have with so many other aging stars in the past. I'm just saying he has finally reached his peak. I mean, what more can this man do? I definitely think he's got more championships in his future, but I don't see any more Finals MVPs. After the Lakers re-sign AD this offseason, LeBron will slowly pass him the torch over the next few years. LeBron even told Davis, ⁸ "This is your team. This is your time... I'm good. If I retired today, I'm fine," according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin. Yes, LeBron will still be there, but not as the top dog. And do they really need him to be? For crying out loud, the man switched to full-time point guard for the first time in his career ⁹ and still lead the league in assists. He can clearly switch gears and be just as effective. With a descending legend in LeBron, and an ascending legend in Anthony Davis, the Laker's front office needs focus on putting the right pieces around them. Bolstering the roster is paramount if they expect to compete with daunting competition in the West against teams like the in-town rival Clippers, the up-and-coming Nuggets, and even the Rockets if they ditch that small-ball crap. And don't forget about the Warriors with the splash brothers coming back at full strength and having the #2 overall pick in the next draft. If any organization can do it, it's the Lakers. But they'll need to make the right decisions in order to handle the aging LeBron with care. So, long live the King, though longer he may not reign.



 

Sources:


¹ NBA Basketball Championship Finals Los Angeles Lakers. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from http://www.laalmanac.com/sports/sp11d.php


² 2020 NBA Finals - Heat vs. Lakers. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/2020-nba-finals-heat-vs-lakers.html


³ Zillgitt, J. (2020, October 12). Lakers star LeBron James becomes first NBA player to win Finals MVP with three teams. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2020/10/11/lebron-james-first-nba-


⁴ NBA & ABA Champions. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/


⁵ NBA Career Finals Leaders and Records for Points. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/pts_career_finals.html


⁶ NBA Career Finals Leaders and Records for Assists. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/ast_career_finals.html


⁷ NBA Career Finals Leaders and Records for Total Rebounds. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/trb_career_finals.html


⁸ Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) "LeBron to Anthony Davis after they won the title: "This is your team. This is your time... I'm good. If I retired today, I'm fine." (via @mcten). 10/24/20. 2:55pm. Tweet.


⁹ 2019-20 NBA Stat Leaders. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.espn.com/nba/stats/_/season/2020/seasontype/2


* Original Statistic






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