LeBron is still LeBron until further notice

Meanwhile, at the top of the hierarchy is James, the master chemist. He’s stirred the mixture of personalities and playing styles for four championship squads, but this is his most difficult test yet. These Lakers have hovered between the play-in game and the lottery for the last four months. Furthering the degree of difficulty is that James is no spring chicken anymore. Yet, everyone who remembers the “old LeBron” swears that that “old LeBron” is on the verge of one last playoff Renaissance.


Recently, James’ unofficial coat-tail rider Brian Windhorst suggested that the NBA’s scoring king, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant, are about to turn the Western Conference on their head from below the bottom four seeds.

“[Kevin] Durant, LeBron [James], [Steph] Curry and the rest of those Warriors — they smell something. They smell weakness in the Western Conference. … It is a weak conference,” the NBA writer said.


We’ve seen James do that before after a tumultuous regular season in 2018. Can the 2023 Lakers storm through the West with the same ferocity the Cavs did in the 2018 Eastern Conference? After all the setbacks, including a tendon injury in his right foot that forced James to visit the “LeBron James of feet” for treatment, the Lakers are only half a game behind the Clippers for the West’s fifth seed.

J.R. Smith weighs in

J.R. Smith, one of the leading scorers on James’ Cleveland teams and a source of one of the most infamous memes ever manifested, isn’t surprised by the direction L.A.’s season is trending in.

“His time of year, I don’t care what team he’s on,” Smith told Deadspin. He figures out what everybody does best and he makes sure you do that at a higher level. His IQ is even higher because he’s putting you in a position to succeed consistently.”


This version of James requires more apex Anthony Davis than the hesitant version who has a habit of coasting and disappearing into the corner in tight contests.

Added Smith, “And now with him being older and his body not being as athletic as he ‘used’ to be, he’s out-thinking everybody so much that he’s still able to put up the same numbers he’s been doing in year 20.”


During James’ final season as a Cavalier back in 2018, the Cavaliers also did a hard reset at midseason. Kyrie Irving had been traded in the offseason and James had one foot hanging out the door. It felt like Koby Altman was shuffling chairs on the Titanic when he pulled the trigger on a prehistoric Dwyane Wade, ultimately shipped him back to Miami, then swapped out Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, and Jae Crowder for Jordan Clarkson, George Hill, Rodney Hood, and Larry Nance Jr. at the trade deadline. Yet, Those Cavs coasted through the regular season to a fourth seed in the Eastern Conference even after a surge in the final month resulted in them winning 10 of their final 13 games.

Once the postseason began, James locked into his god mode and squeezed every single ounce of potential out of that group in nearly single-handedly leading the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals.


James was five years younger then but didn’t have the advantage of an auxiliary boost like AD. In Smith’s opinion, It was only a matter of time before James solved the reconfigured roster Rubix cube and got everyone in their best position to succeed.

“There’s very few people playing the game at the IQ level that he’s playing it at, and he’s just figuring it out through injuries and everything else,” Smith explained. “It’s not even close.”