With less than a month until opening tip-off between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers, there has been plenty of open debate about a key member of the Cavs’ roster. This last week, Sports Illustrated and ESPN both have released their top NBA players for the 2017-18 season and with little to no surprise, LeBron James once again ranked first on the lists. But, the question that has been rumbling throughout the NBA is that how much longer will King James be the cream of the crop throughout the Association?
In all honesty, at 32 years old, with multiple MVP awards, NBA championships and tons of accolades throughout his career, James is without a doubt one of the greatest players of all-time joining the upper echelon of greats like Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. With the 2017-18 regular season, James’ 15th season in the league, there are still no signs of his game slowing down and the title as best in the league along with it. But, there are a few factors that could eventually slow down James within the next few seasons.
1) Tons of mileage on his body
As mentioned before, James is entering his 15th season in the league with the start of the 2017-18 regular season and he has played a ton of minutes with 50,399 minutes played in both the regular season and the playoffs. While thankfully James has had no serious injury concerns and keeps his body in tip-top shape, as seen in these Instagram videos that leave anyone who is not James exhausted just watching it:
There is still cause for concern with both James’ age and the fact that he has so much mileage on his body. It is no secret that father time does catch up to you eventually. Just look at former Green Bay Packers great Brett Favre, who was the National Football League’s ironman for the longest time but when he reached 40 years old, his age finally caught up with him with his last season in the league being one of the worst of his career. Granted, Favre was crushed by Corey Wootton on the last play of his career and basketball is nowhere near as physical as American football but one small injury flare-up or all the minutes on his body can and will slow down James eventually.
2) The Warriors’ dominance from 2017 ’til infinity
Another problem, that has been nipping at the heels of James and the Cavaliers the last three seasons is the fact that the Golden State Warriors have assembled one of, if not the greatest team of all-time. Not only have they assembled the team but they are locked in for the foreseeable future with their key players of Draymond Green, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant all soon entering the prime of their careers. The Cavs were steamrolled by Golden State last season during the 2017 NBA Finals, losing the series 4-1 and with Durant, Finals MVP and 2nd best player in the league, and Stephen Curry, 3rd best player in the Association, torching the Cavaliers along the way. When the series ended, James’ long-time rival Paul Pierce had this to say:
Woah. While it was in the heat of the moment with James’ Cavaliers losing for a second time to their rival, there is some truth to what The Truth is saying. If the Warriors continue their dominance of the NBA over the next few seasons, being considered perennial locks to win the title every season, if Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are at the front of the dominance it might become easier to say that they currently rank above LeBron; especially if his Cavaliers continue to come up short to Oakland in the NBA Finals.
3) Where James plays beyond the 2017-18 season
Finally, it is no secret that James has always been at odds with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert throughout his career. With Gilbert’s heavy hands running the show during James’ first stint with the Cavaliers, the team only made the NBA Finals once in 2007 and were taken behind the woodshed by the San Antonio Spurs. That 2007 Cavaliers team and many of the teams that played with James during his early years in Cleveland were never that great to make it past the Boston Celtics and ultimately teams like the Los Angeles Lakers or Spurs. This made James’ decision to “take his talents to South Beach” to team up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat much easier.
At the end of the 2017-18 season, with James again at odds with Gilbert over the handling of the David Griffin situation and plenty of other things, James could again leave Cleveland and this time head out west. Earlier in the summer The Ringer‘s Kevin O’Connor first planted the seeds that James could be headed out of Cleveland to join a team like the Los Angeles Lakers or the L.A. Clippers to play alongside some of his best friends like Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and again Dwyane Wade. The media then took this narrative and ran with it and numerous signs point to James wearing a different uniform at the start of the 2018-19 NBA season.
While personally many people in Cleveland believe James will be wearing wine and gold for the rest of his career, as James seemed to express in his Sports Illustrated article that announced his return, the reality of him leaving largely hinges on how the 2017-18 season unfolds. If the Cavaliers, after surrounding James with more talent in Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Derrick Rose, were able to knock off the vaunted Warriors in the NBA Finals it would make it hard for James to want to leave the franchise. But if the Cavs fail, there is a good chance James will leave and the Cavaliers will again begin to rebuild in the wake of LeBron’s absence.
The implication of LeBron leaving the Cavs will have an impact on his career and will also leave an impact on his status as the best player in the NBA. As mentioned before, the Warriors are in prime position to dominate the NBA for the foreseeable future and if James heads to the Western Conference he is resigning to the fact that he cannot get past them in the NBA Finals or in the West as well. The only realistic shot James has to knock off the Warriors if he heads West is if he joined the San Antonio Spurs and that does not seem likely due to the fact that he again wants to play with his friends on the same team.
While the future is definitely uncertain for LeBron James’ status as the best player in the NBA for the time being, he still is the King of the NBA for the 2017-18 regular season and one of the greatest players of all time. If the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by James, were able to secure another NBA title in his possible last season with Cleveland it would only further cement his status as the greatest. Beyond that, his status as the league’s best could be up in the air as he enters the twilight of his career and inches closer and closer towards retirement and hopefully being the owner of the Cavaliers some day.