1. Home
  2. sports
  3. news
  4. LeBron James is on a revenge tour to prove he's the best player in the world and it could decide the NBA season

LeBron James is on a revenge tour to prove he's the best player in the world and it could decide the NBA season

Scott Davis   

LeBron James is on a revenge tour to prove he's the best player in the world and it could decide the NBA season
  • LeBron James might no longer be the best player in the NBA.
  • James has laughed at those notions, even referring to one poll as motivation for him this season.

One of the great unknowns of this NBA season revolves around the most consistent force in the league the last two decades.

For the first time in years, there is widespread agreement that LeBron James is not the best player in the NBA.

James turns 37 in December and two of his previous three seasons have been derailed by serious injuries that limited him and his team down the stretch.

We wrote in June that Kevin Durant had surpassed him. We then ranked James third of the top 12 players, behind Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo after they two compiled incredible postseasons.

ESPN also ranked James third, as did Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports. CBS ranked James second.

It represents a potential shift in NBA eras, from a time when James was the no-brainer best player in the league to perhaps not the driving force in the league. And If James cannot summon his peak abilities, it may foil the talented, new-look Lakers' chances of contending for a second championship in three years.

LeBron is out to prove himself

Of course, James feels differently about those preseason rankings.

In August, he mocked an ESPN poll of NBA executives and scouts after receiving no votes as the best player in the league.

He also posted the results to his Instagram story with the caption "#WashedKing."

James hasn't commented on other rankings since - including a GM survey from where he didn't receive any votes among the most likely players to win MVP - but surely, he has internalized it all as motivation.

Indeed, going back to June, after the Lakers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns, James posted a clip of "Gladiator" to his Instagram, vowing revenge.

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames)

James' commitment to a revenge tour and proving he is the best player in the NBA, hangs over a somewhat puzzling Lakers squad. They brought in 10 new players this year and are stocked with talent. However, they are also the oldest team in the NBA. And while the acquisition of Russell Westbrook gives them an added dose of star power and another dynamic ball-handler, it raises serious questions about the offensive fit next to Anthony Davis and James.

LeBron has to be the difference-maker

There has been a lot of discussion about how the Lakers will make this roster work. The coaches and players have spoken about playing Davis at center more often to allow more shooting on the floor. They've discussed a new offensive system to promote more ball and player movement. Even the two remaining starting spots is a point of contention and likely to change throughout the season.

There are questions about how Westbrook will fit with James. Will defenses ignore Westbrook when he doesn't have the ball? Will he commit to cutting and screening when James is running the offense?

These are all big issues central to the Lakers' identity and success. But in the end, those questions matter less if James can't play at an MVP level.

Simply put, the Lakers won't be very good if James isn't a dominant force.

Westbrook is a gifted athlete and All-Star, but his eye-popping stats inflate his value; he has not put a team over the top in years.

Davis is one of the most talented players in the NBA, and his superb play in the bubble in 2020 propelled the Lakers to the championship.

But the last two years, there has also been a theme in Los Angeles: the Lakers are good with James on the floor and not so good when he sits. Several lineups featuring Davis, but not James, have been outscored.

James is a genius on the court, a problem-solver. He has seen every type of defense and knows how to counter it, whether it's picking out weak defenders to attack or moving the post to attract double teams open up space for teammates. He is one of the only players capable of dictating the pace and tempo of a game. He bends the court to his will.

The last time James played in an NBA game that counted, a bothersome ankle prevented him from summoning that ability consistently. James averaged 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists per game while shooting 47% from the field and 37% from three - good numbers, but not enough to push the Lakers past the Suns, especially with Davis injured.

There is a wide gap between MVP-level, best-player-in-the-NBA James and the one from that first-round series.

The Lakers do have on-court issues - if James can play near his peak, those issues will sort themselves out as the season goes on.

But if James truly has begun his decline - if he cannot resume his place as a walking Finals appearance - then the Western Conference may be even more wide open than expected. And in turn, the championship favorites will remain in the East.


Popular Right Now