Editor’s Note: Welcome to our “2020 Lakers Season In Review” series, where we’ll be looking back at every member of this Lakers roster as the offseason commences, and answering some questions about what they contributed (or didn’t) to the team’s 17th championship, as well as discussing what their situation is moving forward. Today, let’s wrap up with LeBron James.
How did he play?
I’ll admit it: Last year, a part of me thought that LeBron James didn’t have it in him to be the best player on a championship team anymore.
I thought Father Time came for James in the form of Mario Hezonja blocking him on a buzzer-beater the same way the mythological reaper of age chased down Reggie Miller in the form of Tayshaun Prince in the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. I thought Father Time was coming for James when Kawhi Leonard outplayed him on opening night 2019, or when he suffered another scary groin injury on Christmas Day two months later. Surely, even James would have to reveal at some point that he, too, was mortal.
I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong.
LeBron James didn’t just play the best season of any 35-year-old in NBA history, or the best season by a Laker in over a decade. He had arguably the best season of any player in the league this year. He was an unstoppable force on offense, making the official switch to point guard (a position he’s played in everything but name for most of his career). He led the league in assists for the first time and assisted on an insane 47.7 percent of his teammates’ field goals, all while dropping a cool 25.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
James brought it on defense in the regular season for the first time in a long time too, and became an integral part of the big, physical identity the Lakers created on that end of the floor. He further ramped up on defense as the year wore on, and was locking in on prime defensive assignments like Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo by the time the hiatus hit. His defensive rebounding also helped propel the Lakers’ transition attack, as did his perpetually pinpoint full-court passing.
His continued excellence was noteworthy throughout the year, but he also sprinkled in individual moments of something beyond brilliance to remind you that he is one of, if not the greatest ever to play this game. James handed out lessons to youngins like Zion Williamson and Luka Doncic, the latter on a night in November when he assisted Danny Green’s game-tying three at the end of regulation. His clutch execution against Miami back in December stands out, as does the final weekend before the pandemic, when he out-dueled two other premier wings to make a statement for himself and the Lakers.
Then the postseason came, and James unlocked a new level. He took control in all facets of the game, alternately lighting up for 40 points while becoming more of a facilitator on other nights to the tune of 16 assists. He threw down poster dunks and pulled up for logo threes. Sometimes James excelled in help defense, and at other times he demanded the individual challenge of shutting down opposing stars like Jamal Murray in the conference finals or Jimmy Butler with a title on the line. He pulverized the Blazers and the Rockets, then ceded the way for Anthony Davis to do the same against Denver before retaking control of the wheel in the Finals.
Most importantly, James restored glory to a historic franchise that had been without it for ten years, proving that 2018-19 was a blip on the radar rather than the start of a trend. His trademark #RevengeSZN hashtag proved prophetic, and he reminded everyone of that fact as he accepted his Finals MVP award and said “I want my damn respect, too”.
The battle for the throne as the best player in the world appeared to be an open playing field one year ago. James shut down the competition in his second season as a Laker. He still controls the NBA on his terms.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
James signed a four-year maximum contract in the summer of 2018 with a player option for the final year. He thus has at least one more season with the Lakers and can choose whether he will finish the contract in 2021-22 or sign a new deal.
Will he be back?
The Lakers are assured of James’ services for at least the next year, and then it his choice beyond that. If Anthony Davis re-signs on a long-term deal, it makes it more likely that James will continue to spend the twilight of his career in Los Angeles. He has multiple homes in the area, his children attend school in southern California, and his production company SpringHill Entertainment is also based here. That being said, James could pretty much start a mega-corporation anywhere he wanted in the United States and no one would bat an eye.
James sort of felt like an interloper in 2018-19, the next in a long line of stars to grace the purple and gold, but one who hadn’t yet been embraced by the fan base. That is no longer the case. Now, LeBron James feels like a Laker. He has suffered in this uniform, and he has succeeded in this uniform, and the combination of those two experiences has endeared him to this community forever. Hopefully, he and Davis continue to lord their dominance over the rest of the league as Lakers for years to come.