The NBA rumour mill is a wild place at the best of times and the microscope has now turned to the future of LeBron James with a growing sense of urgency.
LeBron’s LA Lakers sit ninth in the Western Conference standings midway through the season and will likely have to survive the play-in tournament to make the playoffs.
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James turned 39 in December and the clock is ticking on his career as he chases a fifth NBA championship that would truly cement his legacy as one of the greatest players of all time.
He won the 2020 title with the Lakers but the storied franchise has been treading water since then.
Trading for Russell Westbrook was a mistake and the Lakers have been trying in vain to find role players who can support James and Anthony Davis on a championship run.
With the Western Conference the most congested in history, it’s far to say it would be a miracle if LeBron wins another title with the Lakers.
With his 40th birthday not too far away, LeBron’s every move is being scrutinised amid a growing sense he doesn’t want his career to end with a mediocre LA team.
He tweeted an hourglass emoji after a loss last week, a cryptic post that suggests he knows time is running out on his bid for more NBA immortality.
LeBron, Davis and Austin Reaves took down the red hot New York Knicks over the weekend in Madison Square Garden and fans couldn’t help but notice the veteran had a Knicks towel draped over his shoulders after the game as he did interviews and signed autographs.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said it may just be a towel, but he believes it was a calculated move to put pressure on LA’s front office or even suggest he wants to play for the Knicks.
“Obviously LeBron often wears towels and this is why it’s so brilliant because he has perfect deniability,” Windhorst said on his Hoops Collective podcast.
“He can just be like, ‘Oh, I just put a towel around my shoulders. What are you talking about? You guys are out of your mind.’
“But this is what LeBron excels at. He computes all this stuff. Of course, he was cognisant and aware he was putting on a towel that said New York Knicks.
“Why would he mess with the Knicks? Because he was using the Knicks as a tool to pressure the Lakers.”
For what it’s worth, the Knicks are fourth in the Eastern Conference, flying high on the back of point guard Jalen Brunson’s scintillating form.
They’ve chased a big name recruit in recent years and landing LeBron would go a long way to helping New York end their title drought stretching back to 1973.
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor has argued LeBron and the Lakers would both benefit from parting ways at this week’s midseason trade deadline.
“If a breakup is inevitable, I can’t help but wonder whether the best time for both LeBron and the Lakers to make a change is now, ahead of the deadline,” O’Connor wrote.
“James could join a contender, and Los Angeles could get something in return.
“Changing teams would allow LeBron to take advantage of one of his final years and would allow the Lakers to recoup some value and help lay the groundwork to pursue Luka Doncic later this decade.”
The Lakers and Lebron’s management have said they have no plans to part ways.
LeBron broke Karem Abdul-Jabbar’s record as the NBA’s all-time scorer last year and is on track to pass 40,000 career points — an absurd milestone — before his career is done. He’ll also notch up his 20th All-Star appearance this weekend.
When all is said and done, will his four titles and recordbreaking longevity be enough to trump Michael Jordan’s perfect six championships from six trips to the NBA Finals in the basketball GOAT debate?
With grey speckles in his beard, James is looking more like a mere mortal this season and is no longer the type of player than can win a game himself in a fourth quarter.
His longevity is partly motivated by wanting to play with his son Bronny, who has had a slow start to his college career with the University of Southern California and is projected to go undrafted in the 2024 NBA Draft.
Former NBA player Austin Rivers doesn’t want to see LeBron play with his son, urging Bronny to forge his own path with a different team if he does get drafted.
“I don’t want to see Bronny play with (LeBron),” Rivers said on ESPN.
“Him getting drafted and playing with his dad, I don’t want that negativity to come his way. “He doesn’t deserve it… (He needs to) play somewhere where he can niche out his own identity.”