If — or when — the 2019-2020 NBA season gets back under way, there can be only one loser at season’s end.
Reports say there’s a good chance that the NBA could restart its season in late July playing the remaining games at Disney World in Orlando. And it would more than likely just be a 16-team playoff format to crown this season’s champion.
If James isn’t hoisting up that Larry O’Brien trophy when the dust settles on this pandemic-interrupted season, he will be the biggest loser. Clearly, it would be a lost opportunity, one Lebron can’t afford now that he is this long in the tooth.
Worse, it probably would have been his last chance of winning it all again.
And that wouldn’t be a good thing when you think about how this promising season has come undone for James. His Los Angeles Lakers, after stealing Anthony Davis from New Orleans, were rolling when the season stopped, but there’s no guarantee they can return to that level.
During the break, James was smashed by The Last Dance, Michael Jordan’s documentary. Public opinion about who the G.O.A.T. is swung heavily MJ’s way when Jordan’s career was clearly put in context for misguided millennials.
And lastly, there is a make-shift season to win with no wiggle room.
There’s no other circumstance in the league as dire as what the aging LeBron faces.
Not Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers. Sure, they are contenders to win their first title. But they aren’t going anywhere. They have a shot to still win even if it’s not this season. In fact, they will be healthier and have more chemistry next season.
Not Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. With the best record in the league, they are contenders, too. Again, there is no timetable, expiration date on this squad. This star and his team expect to get better and more experienced with time.
And not the NBA as a whole. There’s no other team that has to win this season or their window will close on them faster than the Lakers. Golden State is banged up and will regroup next season. Houston is in transition and could still figure it out with all that talent. Philadelphia is still young trying to make it work.
James, on the other hand, must win this season by hook or crook. For sure, LBJ’s championship biological clock is ticking.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
And it’s getting louder everyday. And rightfully so.
The last time we saw the 35-year-old LeBron, he was literally king of the world. His Lakers had just beaten the two teams — Bucks and Clippers — that stand in the way of LeBron winning his fourth championship, and narrowing the gap between him and Jordan’s six rings.
LeBron looked like he was already in postseason form. He had 37 points vs. the Bucks. Against the Clips, he had 28 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
In winning those two games, the Lakers upped their record to 49-13, had won 13 of 15 and had finally beaten the Clippers for the first time in three tries this season.
And while it looked like LeBron had as good a shot as anyone this season to win a title, it just might not be the case anymore. That was before the music stopped and the NBA dance floor came to a halt.
Will the time off help or hurt LeBron in his 17th season? A reset could be a good thing for LBJ, who has a lot of miles logged. Then again, restarting a machine that was rolling isn’t always easy for an older player.
But the time off should help the Clips. Leonard and Paul George were both banged up. Those younger players have had ample time to shake off their injuries and be ready for a trophy run. And the Clippers, even hobbled earlier in the season, proved to be a tough matchup against the Lakers, winning the first two games they played.
And there are a lot of ifs for next season and beyond. Can LeBron continue to play at this level in year 18? Will Anthony Davis sign long-term or bolt L.A.?
Worse, the competition heats up in 2020-21. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — in Brooklyn and healthy — will pose another threat next season. The Warriors, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, will be healthy again in the West.
And Giannis won’t get weaker, just stronger and better. Worse, could he eventually bolt Milwaukee and join some super team?
These are all the reasons why LeBron has to win the title this year — even if it winds up being a Mickey Mouse championship in Orlando.