As ‘the Most Unique Player in the History of the Game,’ LeBron James Must Live up to That for the Los Angeles Lakers to Contend

Frank Vogel wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of LeBron James when the then-Miami Heat superstar eliminated the coach’s Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals two years in a row in 2013-14. But now that the two of them are on the same side and working to win the Los Angeles Lakers a second NBA title in three seasons, Vogel has a full appreciation for the unique greatness that James brings to his teams.

Even at 37, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James is playing some of his best basketball

Los Angeles Lakers superstar forward LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives by three Orlando Magic defenders during a game at Amway Center on January 21, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

LeBron James’ greatness as a basketball player is undeniable. When Father Time finally catches up to him, and he calls it a career, he will be one of the most accomplished and decorated players in basketball history. He’s won four championships with three franchises — two with the Miami Heat, one with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, and another with the LA Lakers in 2020. 

Incredibly playing some of the best basketball of his career at 37, James has his sights set on winning a fifth title. That would equal what late Lakers legend Kobe Bryant accomplished, and it would bring him within striking distance of Michael Jordan’s six NBA crowns.

James’ odds of winning it all this season should improve with the return of superstar forward Anthony Davis, who will play on Tuesday in Brooklyn.

With Davis on the sideline the past 17 games, James almost single-handedly kept the Lakers afloat and in the Western Conference playoff chase. Despite rumors floating about Vogel’s job security and a Russell Westbrook benching by Vogel, James was a model of consistency for the topsy-turvy Lakers. The four-time MVP has 17 straight games with at least 25 points — the second-longest run of his Hall of Fame career.

“I’m in one of the best zones offensively that I’ve been in in my career,” James said during a postgame news conference in Miami on Sunday. “I don’t need to score 30 a night, but I’m in one of the best zones offensively that I’ve been in in my career. 

“I don’t plan on stopping it (when Davis returns), and that’s just how I feel. I’m shooting the ball extremely well. I don’t go into the game saying, ‘You’ve got to score 30, or you guys don’t have a chance to win.’ I just play the game, and scoring happens organically.”

The concern, of course, is the amount of wear and tear all that heavy lifting will have on James come playoff time. That’s why the return of Davis is vital to the Lakers moving forward. 

After a recent victory, coach Frank Vogel paid LeBron James the ultimate compliment

One of the most telling things about the greatness of LeBron James as a basketball player is the many ways it appears. Faced with double-teaming defenses, he is one of the best passing wings in basketball history. James can initiate the offense and be a playmaker if a team is down a point guard. If a team needs a big basket late in a game or late in the shot clock, he is a dynamic driver and an improved perimeter shooter.

A big part of James’ greatness has always lied in his ability and willingness to become whatever a team needs. That was the case last week in Orlando, with the Lakers slogging along on both ends of the floor and trailing the woeful Magic by eight points at halftime.

That’s when Vogel decided to remove starting center Dwight Howard from the rotation and shift James from forward to center. That move made the Lakers much more versatile defensively and diverse offensively. Ultimately, it sparked the Lakers to a 20-2 start to the second half, a dominant third quarter, and a big LA victory.

Afterward, Vogel marveled again at James’ greatness as a basketball player. Because of his rare combination of size, speed, agility, playmaking, and power, James often resembles a basketball genius created somewhere in a lab. Vogel simply appreciates that there is no limit to James’ usefulness on the basketball court.  

“He’s the most unique player in the history of the game,” Vogel gushed during his postgame news conference in Orlando on Friday. “We won a championship with him playing point guard two years ago, he’s been a ball-handling wing throughout his career, and he’s been playing center for us. It’s pretty remarkable, and for him to be doing it at this stage of his career, it’s even more remarkable.”

If the Lakers are going to win it all, James will likely need to be as unique of a player as ever 

Basketball experts have had doubts about a LeBron James/Anthony Davis/Russell Westbrook combination ever since the Lakers put the grouping together last summer. James and Davis pushed for the addition of the strong-willed Westbrook, thinking they could control his often uncontrollable style of play.

As the Lakers have struggled this season, GM Rob Pelinka has taken massive amounts of heat for the shoddy construction of the team’s roster. The Lakers have the oldest average age of any roster in the NBA, and they are painfully thin on 3-point shooting around James and Davis. If not for finding Stanley Johnson off the waiver wire, the Lakers might have imploded with Westbrook melting down on a nightly basis, and Davis out injured again.

James’ greatness will be tested down the stretch and in the playoffs with this Lakers’ roster. Somehow, he must spark Davis to be active and aggressive and again play like one of the game’s top two-way threats. Somehow, he must keep the mercurial and moody Westbrook from driving the Lakers off the rails with his erratic play. Also, he must coax greatness out of aging stars Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, and Trevor Ariza.

It will take a uniquely great player to do all of that. Luckily for the Lakers, they have ‘the most unique player in the history of the game’ in James. Frank Vogel will proudly tell anyone in the basketball world who will listen to him about that. Vogel has seen it — both as an opponent and a teammate of James — and it’s never more true than now. Assuredly, he’s delighted to have the do-everything superstar on his side now.

Statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.

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