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LeBron vs. MJ, this Lakers season and a great NBA what-if

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In late June 2016, just days after winning one of the most thrilling and historically significant NBA Finals in history, David Griffin, then the Cleveland Cavaliers’ GM, gathered his staff and gave them a directive: Explore ways to get Kevin Durant.

Everyone knew even getting a meeting was a long shot. They would have to gut most of their roster around LeBron James to acquire Durant. But they had to at least do their due diligence. By then, there was a creeping fear that Durant might really join the Golden State Warriors — fresh off a 73-win season and Finals heartbreak at the expense of James and the Cavs. Everyone understood what that would do to the league’s competitive landscape.

“I don’t believe you can dream big enough in the NBA,” Griffin says now in recalling that meeting. “You have to go through the exercise.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Durant’s move has been on my mind — and the minds of a lot of league insiders — more than usual (sorry, KD!) in light of LeBron missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Does that failure impact LeBron’s legacy? When we ask that question, we are really asking whether it cuts against his claim as the greatest player in the history of the sport over Michael Jordan. (You could nominate a few others — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell — but in most discourse, it comes down to Jordan and James.)3

Jordan didn’t miss the playoffs until his late-30s Washington Wizards phase, which we have all agreed shouldn’t really count for some reason. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Tim Duncan never did. Duncan played his entire career in the way superior Western Conference. James ran up eight straight Finals appearances against the junior varsity. One year in the real conference, and he’s going to the lottery. That seems like a thing.

LeBron isn’t blameless amid the Lakers’ organizational failure, but I’m not sure a 4-8 stretch should carry much (if any) weight in determining his place in history. That’s what we’re really talking about here: the Lakers’ record with James in the lineup after his return from injury, and before they punted on the season following last Monday’s loss to the Clippers. An aging superstar coming off the first serious injury of his career, clearly still finding his conditioning, could not carry an ill-conceived roster into the playoffs.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

Before the injury, the Lakers were on track to be a mid-rung playoff seed. That is about right for a 34-year-old superstar with 56,000 career minutes under his belt playing in the West without an All-Star teammate. There was a time James could do more on his own. Everyone brings up the Cleveland team he carried to the Finals in 2007, but take a gander at the 66-16 Cavs of 2008-09.

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