After completing the greatest comeback in Finals history, chasing down the coolest block in NBA history, and subtly rubbing Pat Riley’s words in his face, what does LeBron James get? Not the cover of Sports Illustrated’s NBA preview (Thanks, Russell Westbrook!), not the biggest headlines of the summer (Thanks for the clicks, KD), not even the No. 1 spot in our preseason Power Rankings (check back Friday!)
Amid all the fuss over the new-look Warriors, it feels like some pockets of NBA fans are overlooking what is about to be the most fun LeBron season of all time. It’s time for Unburdened LeBron.
Look, LeBron’s best regular season days are realistically behind him. His true shooting percentage was 59% last season, a ways off from his peak of 65% in his final year in Miami. James also lost his touch from behind the arc, shooting his worst percentage from three last year since his rookie season.
But none of that matters anymore. For the first time in his life, there is no pressure on LeBron James. He’s no longer expected to be the savior, not after already delivering a title to Cleveland in the most exhilarating way possible. LeBron is no longer dogged by the do-or-die consequences that followed him everywhere in Miami, and his decision to return home has been more than justified with last year's title.
This season, LeBron James can have fun. He can toy with opponents to his heart’s content. He can pull a Trump and start trash-talking Steph Curry on Twitter at 3 a.m. He can continue the best NBA meme and freely troll the Warriors for blowing a 3–1 lead in the Finals—something I’m convinced LeBron made a point to do while endorsing Hillary Clinton.
With Durant going to the Warriors only a couple weeks after LeBron posted a triple double in Game 7 of the Finals, James is firmly positioned as an underdog once again. Not only will he avoid the whispers of 'What if you don’t win this year?', but James can also take solace in the fact that his two biggest rivals feel the need to team up to take him down.
Isn’t this what we’ve been waiting to see for all of LeBron’s career? To watch him play unburdened from all the hysteria and hot takes? No longer will the final two minutes of every close game be a referendum on James’s career. Nah, LeBron can literally do whatever he wants until the Finals and there’s nothing left for us to say about it.
LeBron, my man, embrace this freedom. Try to average a 10–10–10 line for a month. Play an entire game left handed. Snapchat from the bench. Continue to barely acknowledge Dan Gilbert as he profits off your talents.
This will undoubtedly be a fascinating NBA season. Sure, you should definitely watch the Warriors’ Masque of the Blue Death (that’s not going to stick) offense. Take a peek at Karl-Anthony Towns and the blossoming Timberwolves. Make note of the sneaky-contender-status Celtics.
But don’t you dare sleep on LeBron James. The NBA’s best player—and one of its best ever—finally has the freedom to play without worrying about letting anyone down. And that is reason alone to be excited for another year of hoops.