LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are quickly approaching the end of their championship window.
When LeBron James entered the NBA back in 2003, he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. The kid from Akron was heralded. Pundits were saying that he could be the next Michael Jordan. A player who could polarize fans but also make them unanimously nod in appreciation of his skillset. With Jordan's retirement just a few months prior, the league was desperate for the next heir to the throne, and LeBron was already being called that guy. For any normal person, these expectations would have been too much to bear, but for LeBron, it was something to embrace.
For the most part, LeBron did, in fact, live up to the expectations. Pretty well every single year LeBron has been in the league, he has been a top-five player, while most years, he is undeniably the best. Despite this, LeBron has had problems when it comes to winning championships. He has been to the NBA Finals nine times and only has three titles to show for it. This harsh reality has been a source of criticism for LeBron who always seems to encounter dynasties and franchises that are simply run better than his own.
At 35 years old, LeBron is entering the final stages of his career and the window is closing on his ability to win a fourth title. Luckily for him, he is currently in the midst of a season that would certainly be his best chance to seal the deal. The Lakers are first in the Western Conference and are entering the playoffs as favorites to go to the Western Conference Finals. While many fans are unsure if they can make it past the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks, the conventional wisdom states this team is definitely good enough to win a title. With star power like Anthony Davis and role players such as Danny Green, JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, Alex Caruso, and Rajon Rondo, it's clear that this team can make a run if they play at their best.
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If you're a Lakers fan, these playoffs should be an exciting time. However, it should also be a nerve-wracking time, and for good reason. Simply put, if the Lakers don't win this year, their championship window will be slammed shut for a very long time.
There are numerous factors at play here, with the most obvious being LeBron's age. Sure, LeBron has been phenomenal this season in relation to how old he is. Although it's fairly obvious that LeBron is more content with being a facilitator, rather than the number one scoring option he used to be during the prime of his career. For instance, LeBron is leading the league in assists for the first time in his career, while averaging 25.3 points per game, good enough for 12th in the league. By all accounts, these numbers are great but they are sure to decline as LeBron continues to age. Perhaps the best indicator of this is how LeBron has performed in the bubble so far. In four games, LeBron has averaged 19.25 points per game and has struggled to get any consistency going. One could make the argument that this is because he's not trying as hard since the Lakers have already wrapped up the number one seed. While that might be the case, if LeBron's struggles continue into the postseason, then there is certainly cause for concern.
Not to mention, LeBron has been dealing with a lingering groin injury since last season and at times, LeBron needs to sit games out to deal with it. Groin injuries don't go away easily, especially as you get older, which could spell trouble for LeBron's ability to stay healthy heading into next season. As we all know, father time is undefeated which means each subsequent season is going to be harder than the last.
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In terms of the Lakers' big picture, well, they have a lot to worry about when it comes to both LeBron and AD. Davis turned down a contract extension back in January which means he will become a free agent this summer. Most people think he will re-sign with the Lakers although it most likely won't be for the long-term. Instead, AD is expected to sign for two years and become a free agent in 2022 which is the year he will be eligible for a Supermax deal. Coincidentally, 2022 is the same year Lebron becomes a free agent. If you're putting two and two together, by now you will have come to realize that it's unlikely either LeBron or AD will be on the Lakers roster past 2022. Yet another reason why the window is closing so quickly.
Finally, the rest of the Western Conference is stacked, and if LeBron's decline becomes a steep one, then the Lakers are in big trouble. The Los Angeles Clippers have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in their primes, the Oklahoma City Thunder are surging, the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans are promising, the Utah Jazz have quite a few young stars, while the Golden State Warriors are primed for a huge rebound. Next year's competition will be a lot better which is going to make it even tougher on the Lakers to repeat their 2019-2020 regular-season campaign.
If you take all of these factors into consideration, it becomes obvious that LeBron and the Lakers need to win now, or they may never be able to.