What are the biggest questions facing LeBron James entering the 2018-19 NBA season?
Let's get this out of the way first: there's really not much left for James to prove.
- 8 straight appearances in the NBA Finals
- 13 straight top-5 finishes in MVP voting
- 3-time NBA champion
- Objectively or subjectively, one of the greatest players in NBA history
Entering his 16th season, he's not done yet. And judging by that four-year contract he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason, he's far from it.
With that said, here are the biggest questions for James as he begins the next chapter of his Hall of Fame career...
Will the Lakers contend this season?
Regardless of how much the Lakers win, there's no question that the franchise is nationally relevant for the first time since Kobe Bryant retired.
But simply resonating in Los Angeles isn't good enough.
Not for James, who has played into June every year since 2010. Not for Magic Johnson, who won five championships as a point guard with the Lakers. Not for the Lakers franchise as a whole, who haven't even been the best team in their own building since 2011-12.
When James signed, the prevailing sentiment would be that the Lakers would get one more star. Surely he wouldn't come alone … except he did.
Since there is no established second star in the mold of Paul George, Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler, pertinent questions need answering that go far beyond The King if the Lakers are going to truthfully scare anyone in Year 1.
Will Brandon Ingram blossom into an All-Star? Or perhaps Kyle Kuzma? Will Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo co-exist? Will Lance Stephenson prove reliable? Can Javale McGee actually anchor a frontcourt?
Despite the seemingly endless list of major question marks, the Lakers enter 2018-19 with the fourth-best odds to win the whole thing according to oddsmakers in Las Vegas.
MORE: Lakers season preview
Can LeBron really play centre?
Lakers head coach Luke Walton hinted over the summer that James should expect to see regular minutes playing centre. While part of it is certainly ability and the manner in which the game has changed, it also most certainly is a product of a vertically challenged roster short on traditional big men.
The 👑 in his new lab. #LakeShow pic.twitter.com/im4bD7p7Rr- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) August 9, 2018
Though he's dabbled at the five in spurts based on matchups, routine run at centre would certainly be a big change for James. According to Basketball-Reference.com, James spent just 2% of his time on the floor playing centre last season, though he was used primarily as a power forward.
According to player tracking data from Second Spectrum, James was Cleveland's top rim protector last season as he held opponents to just 56% shooting at the rim, the best mark on the team and better than noted shot blockers Draymond Green and Hassan Whiteside.
Is LeBron still the best player in the world?
Incredibly, James hasn't won an MVP award since 2012-13 with the Miami Heat. Yet despite challenges from Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant, it's hard to suggest that he's been anything but the best player in the world over that same span.
(Apologies to Russell Westbrook and James Harden, who have both won MVPs since James last took home the hardware. Great players, not on the same level as The King.)
Will that still hold true in his 16th season?
In NBA.com's most recent GM survey, James was not only selected as the player most likely to win the MVP, but also the player who forces coaches to make the most adjustments, the best small forward, the best passer, the best leader, the most versatile player and the player with the highest basketball IQ.
Only time will tell but from the looks of it, James is likely still the best player in the world.
Will LeBron catch Kareem?
James enters the season seventh on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
Sometime within the first month of the season, he will pass both Dirk Nowitzki and Wilt Chamberlain to move into the top five. Around the All-Star break, he'll likely pass Michael Jordan, which will leave only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant ahead of him.
He's currently 7,349 behind Abdul-Jabbar, who is the all-time leading scorer. As long as he plays around 75 games per year while averaging close to 25 points per game, James stands a good shot of catching Kareem in 2021-22, which would be his fourth season with the Lakers.
Who will join LeBron in Los Angeles?
Eventually, someone else will join him.
As mentioned earlier, that was part of Magic Johnson's plan this summer. While unable to nab Paul George, who re-upped with Oklahoma City, the free agent market will be littered with big names next summer.
MORE: Top free agents next summer
Kevin Durant? Kawhi Leonard? Jimmy Butler? Klay Thompson? DeMarcus Cousins? The possibilities are endless.
How many more championships will LeBron win?
This question is tethered to three different separate, yet related, questions:
- How long will James remain an MVP-caliber player?
- Who else joins him?
- Do any of the young Lakers become stars?
Of course, James could remain on top of his game, receive superstar help and see multiple Lakers take a leap and it still might not matter as long as the Golden State Warriors stay together.
Almost all of the larger-than-life stars to don purple and gold won at least one championship. George Mikan. Jerry West. Wilt Chamberlain. Magic Johnson. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kobe Bryant. Shaquille O'Neal.
Given the strength of the Warriors, not to mention rising teams like the Boston Celtics, it's far from a certainty that James adds to his ring collection. Stay tuned.
MORE: What if Kobe came back to play with LeBron ?
Which player benefits the most from LeBron's mentorship?
The wiry scorer still scratching the surface?
Lil bro gone be a problem!! #YoungDripKing👑 @B_Ingram13 https://t.co/vat8SCJAgc- LeBron James (@KingJames) October 5, 2018
The unselfish playmaker brimming with creativity?
How much longer will LeBron play?
This, of course, is pure speculation. The truth is that nobody - not even James - knows.
If there's one thing we learned from last season it's that James is showing no signs of slowing down. He's the smartest player in the league in terms of monitoring his own play and picking his spots, and he spends over a million dollars annually on taking care of his body.
At the end of his four-year contract, he'll be 37-years-old and coming off his 19th season. Given what he know about his ability to stay healthy, it's not out of the question that James could try breaking another record: becoming the first player in NBA history to play 22 seasons.
That would be three more seasons beyond his current four-year contract.
Another seven years of LeBron? Sign me up.