Is LeBron James' Weird 2018 Season Setting Up To Be His Most Remarkable?

It’s been a long year for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. We can point fingers: owner Dan Gilbert, Kyrie Irving, new GM Koby Altman, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson-Kardashian, Isaiah Thomas, and Kevin Love have all been, at some point in the past eight months, complicit in contributing to a roller coaster of a season for The Land. Trades, firings, hirings, statistical disappointments, massive lineup changes, injuries, and illnesses are part of every NBA team’s narrative. But for the 2017-18 Cavs, it’s felt as if everything has been compounding and exploding in spectacularly disastrous fashion around the greatest basketball player in the world, non-stop. LeBron is hellbent on getting his teammates through the Eastern Conference and back to the Finals, but the Cavaliers around him are crawling behind a marathon runner. Since 2011, June has been booked for Bron. We’re not ready for LeBron to spend his first few days of summer at home. Here’s why:

First of all, LeBron is playing as if he could die tomorrow. With twelve games to go, LeBron is ready to check one more box off of his career to-do list: 82 regular season games. In spite of his indestructibility, the King has never before played a truly full season (though if you include playoffs, he’s played between 85 and 100 games every year since age 21). It didn’t seem to be something he cared about, opting most noticeably last year to sit a handful of lesser essential games throughout the year in favor of scheduled rest. In 2016-17, LeBron missed eight games–seven were a DNP-Rest–ruffling a lot of feathers. So what changed his mind? Disappointed fans, the media circus, Adam Silver’s overdramatic declaration that rest is “an extremely significant issue for our league,” a positive uptick in LeBron’s wellness? It could be a combination of everything, but mostly, it looks like LeBron is just eager to show us that he’s doing it because he can.

We also need to pay attention to how obsessed LeBron is with self-care. We know he loves a cinnamon roll with a glass of rosé in the driveway, but his concern for wellbeing goes bone-deep. On March 19th, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst revisited the back ailment LeBron dealt with in his first season back with the Cavs. In 2015, “disc issues” requiring anti-inflammatory shots threatened to derail The King’s prime. Naturally, LeBron hired a personal biomechanist, former Navy SEAL Donnie Raimon. Working with Raimon and longtime trainer Mike Mancias, LeBron completely revamped his approach to strength and conditioning. This, along with eating right and making good use of home training facilities that would make any professional team blush, has done absolute wonders for the King. It’s truly mind-boggling.
Think about this for a minute, though. King James missed two full weeks of action in 2015, the longest stretch of downtime his career (knock on wood). His averages were down, and he often looked like he was suffering more than he was letting on. And yet, he managed to lead the Cavs to a competitive six-game Finals series against Golden State without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, who were wiped out with their own season-ending injuries. Knowing what we know today, the 2015 Finals campaign has to rank up there with LeBron’s most impressive playoff runs.

The same night Windhorst’s story was published, the Cavs tipped off against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. The marquee game, featuring the King versus the kid who’s going to succeed him (at least according to Kevin Durant), was no letdown. Antetokounmpo racked up 37 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists: a stat line extraordinary on its own, yet entirely standard for Milwaukee’s 22-year-old superstar. Too normal, in fact, and somehow not enough to get the Bucks a win they desperately needed. The Bucks fell to the Cavs, 124-117, and Giannis had one question for himself postgame: “‘OK, what did I do wrong today guarding LeBron?'” LeBron didn’t just drop 40 on the Greek Freak–he recorded a triple-double of epic proportions, joining Elgin Baylor and Larry Bird as one of the three oldest players to record one with at least 40 points. Adding insult to Giannis’s injury, LeBron had been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week earlier that day for a record-shattering 60th time. Speaking to the media after the game, Bron said something he often reiterates: “I can always figure out a way to be a threat on the floor even if I’m not scoring.” It sounds simple enough, but no one can do it quite like LeBron James. Leaving Giannis dumbfounded by his dynamism, The King showed us he’s not anywhere near ready to concede the crown.

LeBron isn’t tired. He isn’t wearing down. Sure, he’ll take a play off here and there–he isn’t the uncompromising defender he once was. It can be frustrating to watch, but it pays off: LeBron’s conserving enough energy during games to have averaged a triple-double over the month of February. In the same month, he officially became the first player in NBA history to have accrued 30,000 points, 8,000 assists, and 8,000 rebounds. The pass-first point forward is climbing the all-time scoring list with embarrassing speed. Through March, LeBron is averaging 31 PPG, 9.2 APG, and 10.5 RPG, and while it might be too late for him to secure a year-long triple-double average, there’s no reason to think he won’t try it next year.
LeBron James isn’t finished putting together one of the greatest, most challenging NBA seasons of his life. We’ll see you in June, King.

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