The Lakers have a very frustrating season full of ups and downs. After starting the season in fourth place in the West, some, if not most analysts were starting to debate the Lakers' capability of reaching the conference finals. What they never took into account was the possibility that they would actually miss the playoffs.
Despite the eye test, especially post All-Star break, people constantly gave James the benefit of the doubt. "He could not possibly miss the playoffs?" "Can he afford to miss the playoffs in the first year of being with the Lakers?" "Is the year 16 wear-and-tear finally weighing on his body, because if he was healthy there is no way this would have happened."
Because of the eight straight finals narrative, it was like nobody could concede that this season might actually be a wash. I mean, let's put it in perspective: Lebron, Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandom Ingram have all missed time this year. Chemistry in team sports is key, and without being able to play together and learn people's tendencies, a team's ability to succeed easily can diminish.
Then there was the month-long story of the Lakers being willing to practically trade off anyone on the team except for Lebron. Lack of playing time plus a broken locker room equals a failed season.
Now that the summation of the Lakers' season is out of the way, what does this mean for the playoffs?
It means for the first time in maybe over a decade, we finally have a chance to see the future of league takeover. Without LeBron in headlines night after night, this gives NBA fans, executives, coaches, and even players a chance to see who is in the running for the "Best Player in the World" title.
LeBron only has three, maybe four, seasons left. He already is showing injury risk and diminishing effort on the defensive end which already makes him a one-dimensional player. In this year's playoffs, someone else will finally get to step up to the plate.
Will it finally be Kevin Durant who goes ballistic and leads the Warriors to their three-peat? Will it be Giannis Antetokounmpo who has improved every year since his rookie year and is the leading MVP candidate in most people's eyes? Could it be Stephen Curry who may prove that he deserved finals MVP in at least one of the Warriors finals victories? Could James Harden or Paul George look to play spoiler in Giannis's MVP case by having some performances that sway the bias? Is someone like Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving going to take this playoff opportunity prior to becoming free agents to raise their stock even higher?
There are so many questions to be answered and so many narratives that would and could possibly be overshadowed if LeBron James were to make the playoffs.
I know most people are going to talk about the rating being lower without LeBron, but I believe that this potential mantle passing will help in maintaining the intrigue this postseason. The possible finals match-up had already changed with LeBron leaving the Eastern Conference. Now things will be very interesting, with the Eastern Conference improving in his absence and the Western Conference continuing to be competitive. despite the dominance of the Golden State Warriors. This year may be the first of many to come where there will FINALLY be a debate over who the next best player in the league is.
Everybody should keep their eyes peeled. This playoff has the potential to show off just how great players NOT named LeBron James really are.