King James

LeBron James is having another MVP caliber season in his return to Cleveland, but he’s having to work much harder than at any point in his career.

Take for instance James’ 42.9 usage rate without Kyrie Irving in the lineup. The highest usage rating in NBA history is Kobe Bryant during the ’05-’06 season at 38.74.

Colin Cowherd referred to LeBron James as a “bulldozer” in terms of his style of play and it’s a great analogy. James is a superior athlete at his position with a build like a power forward, but skills like a point guard. The problem is teams are making a concerted effort to be physical with him and the wear and tear during his 12th season is tolling on him.

In December, he took two weeks off to rest nagging injuries and although the Cavs have been on a tear since his return, he’s never been depended upon as much in his career. During his first stint in Cleveland, he was younger and more athletic, but the similarities of how much he had the ball in his hands then and now is frightening.

Believe it or not, James is on the downside of his career. At 30, he’s passed his prime and while still one of the best players in the game, the mileage is catching up to him. With a game more comparable to Magic Johnson than that of Michael Jordan, he can play every position and do it well. But “coming home” had as much to do with acquiring younger teammates, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, as it did to do with home cookin’.

Never cut from the same cloth as Jordan or Kobe Bryant, it’s hard to imagine James putting in the off season work coming off a season-ending injury (not a matter of “if,” but “when”). Just like Father Time is robbing Bryant from his final seasons, he will catch up with James sooner or later.

The 2-year contract James signed with Cleveland was a smart business move, both for the TV deals that will increase yearly AND for a way out if the Cavs fail to reach his expectations. James said he wouldn’t leave Cleveland again and he plans to retire there, but he has known to be fickle and would much rather join a super team than wait for his own to form.

At 35, it will put James in his 17th season, most likely short of Bryant’s (5) and Jordan’s (6) ring count, but amassing several individual records along the way. LeBron James’ legacy will always be compared to the NBA legends of the past, but he’s done enough to sit at the same table as them even if he retired today. Let’s not assume he’ll play deep into his 30’s or push 40 as an NBA player. James’ ambitions off the court will become more important to him in the years to come which will make it easier for him to walk away from the game, including all the aches and pains that come with it.

Fans should enjoy James while he’s around because he’s a unique player that will go out on his own terms, early.

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Author, blogger, speaker & die-hard Lakers fan

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