It’s going to be a very big year for LeBron James. He’s starting the 20th season of his illustrius career, and in that 20th season he is likely going to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the list of most points scored in NBA history. But of course, that doesn’t mean this season will be all sunshine and rainbows… LeBron, his teammates, and especially the Lakers fans care way more about winning games than they do seeing individual scoring records broken.
But still, on media day, LeBron James was able to think about how crazy it’ll be to one day pass Kareem and become the greatest scorer in NBA history… without thinking of what may be going on with the team when he likely does so late in the season.
“I’ve never played my career with saying “If I do this, then this will happen”, besides just making sure I’m in the best shape possible heading into the season and being available. But to sit here and know that I’m on the verge of breaking probably the most sought after record in the NBA…. things that people probably said couldn’t be done… it’s just super humbling for myself. I think it’s super cool. Obviously, Kareem has had his differences with some of my views and some of the things I do, but at the end of the day, to be in the same breath as a guy who wore this same uniform, a guy who was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game over there, for so many years in the 1980s. And a guy who does so much off the floor… it’s super, duper dope for me to even be in that conversation, anytime my name is mentioned along with the greats.”
But as I said, to enjoy that career-defining moment that’ll happen if LeBron stays healthy, two things must happen. One, the team has to significantly improve on their 11th-seeded finish last season. And two, well… LeBron has to stay healthy. Father Time hasn’t taken away his superstar status yet, but it has affected LeBron in terms of how much he has been able to stay on the court. LeBron knows this, saying the following when asked what he will be focusing his individual game on this season:
“I’m going to focus my game on just being available. That’s the most important. Obviously some injuries you can’t control, but that’s my whole mindset. For me as the leader of this time, one of the leaders of this team, availability is the most important thing in this league, the ability to stay on the floor… that’s always been my mindset.”
Putting himself to the side, LeBron focused on one aspect of the team’s game that he would like to improve on between last season and this season. It was a main reason for the team’s success during the 2019-20 championship season and it’s something that Darvin Ham has discussed ad nauseum.
“Defense. I mean obviously, you have to be able to put the ball in the hole, for sure, in our league. There’s been some great teams who can do that. But teams that can defend, and get stops when needed… they’re simply more successful in our league. I think the defensive side of the floor is what we’re going to be hammering home on every single day. Understanding that if we can defend, make teams take tough shots, keeping them to one shot at the goal then rebound and secure the ball… that will put us in position to be successful throughout the season.”
That’s good and all, and if LeBron is healthy we can almost certainly expect good-to-great individual defense from him with plenty of “putting the ball in the hole,” but what about his teammates? Specifically, what about the other two parts of the ill-fated “Big Three” that the Lakers formed last offseason? He said the following about Anthony Davis when asked what his expectations were for his teammates of the past three seasons:
“My expectations for AD is for AD to be AD. To be the dynamic player he is, both offensively and defensively… I expect that out of him. I’ve always expected that out of him ever since he became a part of this franchise and nothing has changed. And he expects a lot out of me as well, so for us to be going into another season, it’s a dynamic that I’m looking forward to, and I think he’s going to have a hell of a season and I’m looking forward to being apart of that journey.”
When asked about Russell Westbrook, the question was a little more pointed, as the reporter asked LeBron if Westbrook can make his game work here alongside LeBron and AD after the fit was obviously not working last season. LeBron says “Absolutely”, however, the quote isn’t exactly inspiring. His preceding quote about the mini-camp the players held recently in San Diego — when LeBron said he’s just glad that everyone made it back safe (???) — carried a similar feeling of little doubt.
“Absolutely… absolutely. I’m looking forward to being on this part of the journey with him this year. It’s going to be a great year for him. And we’ll be right there with him. We’re here, and it starts tomorrow. It’s all about putting in the work, and when you put in the work, you’ll see the results. So I’m looking forward to it.”
But no matter how much internal worry LeBron may be carrying about this season, he is undoubtedly committed to this Lakers team after signing an extension that will keep him here until the 2024 offseason at the minimum.
“I came here because I believe in the franchise. And I’m still here. It’s literally that simple… that’s simple… I’m committed to the franchise as long as my career, as long as my contract is.”
When LeBron was saying that quote, he quickly changed the “career” to “contract” as he realized there’s no guarantee he finishes his career here. That’s a crazy thing for a guy entering his 20th season to say, but given the fact that he’s been beating the odds with his age for a few years now… who knows what he’s really capable of? And of course, he’s made it no secret that he wishes to play alongside his son Bronny James in the near future. Who knows where Bronny will be drafted to? If it’s not the Lakers, maybe LeBron doesn’t finish his career here in L.A.
But that’s a worry for another day. For now, it’s time to continue appreciating the fact that LeBron is here in the purple-and-gold. And hopefully, LeBron is blessed with enough health to be as available as he wants to be. If he is, there really is no ceiling that analysts can put on this team’s potential, whether Russ is here or not. LeBron is still one of the greatest players in the game and can still single-handedly put his teams in a position to succeed no matter what.
The journey to do that — as LeBron put it — starts now.