After the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat 124-114 on Friday night to claim a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals, LeBron James is now officially two wins from his fourth NBA championship. That doesn’t surprise me. I picked the Lakers to win the championship coming into the bubble.
What does surprise me is that this is starting to feel closer to the beginning than the end of LeBron and Anthony Davis’ reign. When the Lakers traded for Davis, I was one of the people who was at least marginally skeptical because I figured they would have a one-, maybe two-year window to win a title, and then LeBron would be done as an elite player and Davis would be left with a pretty bare cupboard, similar to what he had to work with in New Orleans.
But my god, is there even the slightest bit of evidence that LeBron is anywhere near his end? Typically superstar declines happen in stages. LeBron hasn’t even hit the first stage. He posted 33 points, nine rebounds and nine assists on Friday. He’s averaging a cool 29 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists for the series, on 57 percent shooting. If you want to pick nits, perhaps, maybe, if you really squint, he’s not quite the athlete he used to be. But all things considered, he’s still arguably the best athlete in the league.
The fact is, even in spite of his initial decline (whenever that process begins), LeBron is going to remain an elite playoff player on his intelligence and ball skills alone. He could be an elite high-post hub for the next five years without breaking a sweat. But we just aren’t anywhere near having to talk about this kind of adjustment in his game. He’s still killing people. He’s still getting to the rim pretty much at will. And now he’s got a 27-year-old Davis alongside him?
This is another Kevin Durant-Steph Curry situation in that both LeBron and Davis could be considered the best player in the world at any given moment without even being the clear best player on their own team. Davis is on another planet right now. I recently had a scout warn me against drawing any concrete conclusions from what we’ve seen in the bubble, given how unique the conditions are, but if even 75 percent of Davis’ shooting leaps in these playoffs prove sustainable, to me he has just cemented himself as the most indefensible player in the league.
You go big, he murders you on the perimeter and off the dribble. You go small, he murders you in the paint and on the boards. He is, for my money, the best postseason defensive player in the league for his ability to dominate any lineup concoction, which is what the playoffs are all about.
So let’s just do the math. Assuming the Heat don’t pull off a miraculous comeback, and assuming Davis re-signs with the Lakers this offseason, LeBron will head into next season with four championships and the best sidekick in the league. I won’t speculate on what the Lakers will do with their roster, or what they’ll even be able to do, but suffice it to say they will be as aggressive as possible in an attempt to keep this immediate title window wide open.
Even if the Lakers mostly run their roster, or its peripheral equivalent, back in 2021, how could you go into next season with any other team as the favorite? Yes, the Clippers will be really good. Perhaps the Bucks will trade for Chris Paul, which would make them a big threat. The Celtics and Nuggets will be a year older, and hopefully better. The Warriors could be back in the mix. Maybe Giannis ends up in Dallas and LeBron, after next season, winds up with another super-team in his way.
But those teams are unknown quantities. Only the Warriors have proven they can win a title with their current core, but even that was five years ago, before Durant came to the Bay, and before Klay Thompson tore his ACL and Draymond Green and Curry crested the 30-year-old hill. We don’t know what those guys will look like as they enter into the latter part of their prime.
But we know exactly what LeBron looks like. And we certainly know what he and Davis look like together. Finish off the Heat, take advantage of another golden opportunity in the relative parity of next season, and suddenly LeBron is just one title from matching Michael Jordan’s six.
You’re telling me he can’t win one more somewhere in the twilight years? You’re telling me great players aren’t going to continue to flock to play with him and Davis in Los Angeles? The Lakers had a rough 10-year stretch where it was — relatively speaking — tough for them to lure big names, but the purple and gold is officially back among the NBA’s premier destinations.
I’ll be honest, I gave up on the idea of LeBron catching Jordan’s six-title mark a while ago. But this (assumed) bubble title has me completely recalculating. And when I run the numbers — the lines LeBron continues to put up, the prime and close-to-prime years that he presumably has left, the ridiculous partner he has found in Davis — I just don’t see a way to dismiss the possibility of No. 6 happening at some point. That doesn’t mean I’m saying it’s definitely going to happen, or even that it’s likely. I’m just saying that it’s possible. And it wasn’t very long ago that I would’ve said that ship had sailed.