How many years does LeBron James have left of being great?
The Los Angeles Lakers instantly vaulted themselves into title contention earlier this offseason when they acquired Anthony Davis in a blockbuster trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. The addition of Davis gives the Lakers a duo of he and LeBron James, certainly representing one of the most lethal tandems in basketball.
But Davis has not exactly been committal to Los Angeles for the future, going as far to say that he would love to play for the Chicago Bulls one day if the opportunity presents itself (hint: Davis will become a free agent next summer). But how can Davis not want to lock himself into a team that houses one of the best players to ever play the game and that plays in arguably the biggest media market in basketball?
Could it have to do with the fact that LeBron turns 35 years old in December and may not have much time left playing near his peak?
Of course, none of us know what Davis is truly thinking, but you can’t help but think James’ age, coupled with the fact that he missed over a month with a groin injury this past season, is a big reason why Davis may not be 100 percent sold on the Lakers moving forward.
So that begs the question: just how many “great” seasons does James have remaining?
Well, based on the history of the human body, you wouldn’t think he has too many left. Yes, I understand James has pretty much defied the laws of physics more than almost any other athlete we have ever seen, but the fact of the matter is that he is still a human being, and him suffering his first truly major injury this past year is a clear indication of that reality. It also may be a sign that the end is closer than it appears.
Obviously, I’m not saying that James is going to fall off a cliff in two years. That isn’t going to happen. Chances are, James will always be a productive player, even if he’s still in the league at age 40. But there is a colossal difference between “productive” and “great.”
Let’s face it: while James is an incredibly sharp player with ridiculous floor vision, he relies heavily on his athleticism to be as phenomenal as he is, and once that athleticism starts to go (and it clearly already is), a decline will start with it.
Even though James still posted awesome numbers in the 55 games he was on the floor this season, advanced stats do show that he is declining, as the .179 win shares per 48 minutes he averages are his lowest since his rookie year.
Taking it a step further, it marked only the second time James has averaged under .200 win shares per 48 minutes since his first season in the league. The other time? When he averaged .199 during his first year back in Cleveland in 2014-15.
James also shot just 29.7 percent from three-to-10 feet from the basket, by far the lowest mark of his career and well below his career average of 41.8 percent. That is an indication that he simply is not getting as much lift anymore.
Don’t get me wrong: James remains one of the best athletes in the league, and we probably won’t see a significant drop-off next season, but we have to ask ourselves: how concerning was that groin injury?
Let’s remember that LeBron had never missed extensive time due to an injury before in any of his first 15 seasons in the league. Sure, he had little nicks and bruises, but nothing like this. This is a guy who has played 16 years in the NBA, making nine trips to the finals while also playing a whole lot of international ball. Basically, he has a ton of mileage on those legs.
James is entering his 17th season. For comparison’s sake, the most seasons ever played by an NBA player is 21, a record held by Robert Parish, Kevin Willis, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki.
As much as people would like to believe that James is some alien from another galaxy who scoffs at the natural deterioration of the human body, the truth is that he is of the human species, just like the rest of us. Sure, he has some physical advantages that 99.9999 percent of the rest of humanity has not had, but he is still a person, no less.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the clock is ticking, and Davis’ hesitance to verbally commit to the Lakers long-term demonstrates that he may very well be thinking that very same thing about his new teammate.