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There’s a price to pay for greatness and a growing contingent of NBA experts are insisting you’re now starting to see the residual impact that cost is prematurely starting to take on LeBron James.
At just 29 years old, through 12 of the most grueling seasons of anyone to ever don an NBA uniform, the burning question in league circles is quickly becoming has The King’s time to rule come.
Scouts everywhere lament how James had just six dunks in the Cleveland Cavaliers half-court offense over their first 20 games, prompting another NBA exec to opine “the LeBron James who could dunk on any player at any time is probably gone.”
And after seven straight seasons of improved field-goal percentage shooting in each of them, James’ shooting has dropped by 10 percent this year compared to last amid clamoring whispers he isn’t nearly as explosive as he used to be. As further proof, critics point to how he shot a league-leading 72.9 on field goals in the paint last season compared to 60.1 thus far this year.
All those computations have the four-time league MVP and two-time champion openly wondering what’s a man averaging 25 points, eight assists, and six rebounds to do to maintain a level of respect?
“I’m still out there making plays,” said James. “My athleticism, obviously I’m not the 18-year-old kid that I was before. But I can still do the things I need to do to be successful. I’m 29 years old, and I can still fly above the rim.”
After dropping 41 points in a weekend loss to the Pelicans, James now has seven 30-point games this season, but the only numbers his critics seem to want to point to is the fact that he’s now played more minutes than Larry Bird did over the course of his entire career. Or that The King has now toiled over 40,000 career minutes.
All the wear and tear aside, Cleveland has loved what James has brought since he made the summer decision to return home. The fact that Kyrie Irving and even, to some extent, Dion Waiters are now starting to look like the professionals their talents might suggest they would be is game-changing in and of itself when compared to the way they’ve carried themselves in seasons past. That all stems from their association with James and how he has embraced the job of being a leader to everyone in a Cavs’ uniform.
“There is no way to compare what LeBron is doing this season to what he did in the last few years,” said one league executive. “He’s dealing with a completely different roster that is requiring him to play a different style. He’s working harder on offense because he’s playing point guard almost every minute he’s on the floor. The Heat had mastered the art of creating space and there were way more driving lanes than he typically has now.”
Have there been growing pains and at times chemistry issues for the young and still combustible Cavs? Without question, but the team’s recent streak of eight wins in 10 games suggests James and his crew may not be that far off from finding long-term solutions.
The truth is LeBron James game has now become as much about mind over matter as it is matter over mind. And in his mind, all that seems to matter is winning and building upon his legacy. So if that means picking his spots at times, or pacing himself at others, then so be it.
“I got so much love for the game, I try to do everything I can to play when I can,” James said. “When I’m done and I can’t play the game no more, I wish I got those games back. But I do got to be smart sometimes. I’m rounding 30 in a couple days, so we’ll see.”
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