Every year for the past eight seasons, new Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James has punched a ticket to the NBA Finals. He also hasn’t missed the postseason for over a decade because, word on the street is, he’s very, very good at this basketball thing — arguably the greatest to ever do it.
Despite this, there are people that are already doubting whether or not James is a lock to make the playoffs in his first season with the Lakers. On one hand, the Western Conference is loaded with talented, playoff-tested teams, but on the other hand, it’s LeBron James.
The King will be tasked with getting the Lakers to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. While there are very few certainties in the NBA, anything is possible with James.
No knows this more than those that have shared the court with him, including James’ former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Richard Jefferson, who won a championship with James in 2016. Jefferson told Marc Stein of the New York Times that James, even at 33 years old, is far and away the best player in the league.
“When he went back to Cleveland, I promise you he didn’t go there thinking, ‘O.K., it’s time to go to four straight N.B.A. finals,’” Jefferson said of James’s return to the Cavaliers in 2014. “But would anyone really be surprised if the Lakers made the conference finals? He’s that good. Any time LeBron steps on the court, he’s the best player on the court. There’s a bigger gap than I think many people would really believe.”
If anyone is qualified to talk about James’ greatness on the court, it’s Jefferson.
The 38-year-old has been battling with James since he came into the league in 2003, with their most memorable matchup coming in 2007, when James’ Cavs knocked out the star-studded New Jersey Nets in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Nets had Jefferson, Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd and likely future Hall of Fame shooting guard Vince Carter on the roster that year. The second and third best players on that Cavaliers team were Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden, and yet, James still managed to carry them past the Nets and all the way to the Finals.
The expectation might not be for James to do the same in his first year with the Lakers, but to say there’s not even a chance he’ll be back in the NBA Finals this year would be to completely disregard his history. And that, my friends, would be stupid.
So invite James’ doubters to sleep him on him all they want, as long as they’re ready for a potentially rude awakening.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.