As LeBron James turns 38, his historic brilliance is being wasted by Lakers

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In a viral video with more than seven million views, LeBron James appears overcome with fatigue during a game against the Dallas Mavericks on Christmas. He slows his dribble to a crawl and shakes his head in exasperation.

A split second later, James switches gears, beating Davis Bertans and Christian Wood, picking apart several defenders before making a reverse layup like he’s Moses, and they’re the Red Sea.

A woman who works for Nike named Jasmine Watkins retweeted the video, writing that this is “how old bosses treat you,” adding that they “act like [are] tired and then make a move to the edge.” Her comment reached James himself, who responded with five emoticons of a face laughing so hard he was crying and wrote: “DONE.”

It was revealing.

As James turns 38 on Friday, he’s still playing MVP-caliber basketball, something unprecedented for his age. Michael Jordan lost strength as he aged. Tim Duncan became the fourth or fifth option in San Antonio.

James is defying Father Time, averaging 27.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists in his 20th season in the league. To be able to do this, we witness such a rare combination of intelligence, skill, physical prowess and cunning that it should be widely recognized and reverently celebrated, as a once-in-a-generation eclipse.

But instead, his greatness in the twilight of his career is being wasted, slipping through the cracks like a world-famous violinist playing a set on a New York City subway as passersby rush by unwittingly. his day

The problem is, it’s hard to celebrate greatness when a team is near the cellar of the league. The Lakers are currently in 13th place in the Western Conference, just 3.5 games ahead of the last place Houston Rockets. Without Anthony Davis, who is out indefinitely with a stress injury, the Lakers have lost five of their last six matchups.

Simply put, the Lakers’ badness is drowning out James’ greatness.

On Christmas, for example, James led all scorers with a 38-point performance on 56.6 percent shooting. But the story of the night was that the Lakers were outscored 51-21 in the third quarter as they fell 124-115.

As the trade deadline approaches, the question facing the Lakers is simple: Will they sacrifice their first-round pick and make a trade to give James a fighting chance to win now? Or will they consider this season a lost cause, save their assets and try to revamp the team in the summer?

If they choose the latter, they will be committing some sort of basketball offense. They will waste one of the most impressive and age-defying performances by an athlete in any sport.

It’s clear that James’ patience is wearing thin.

He is a four-time NBA champion who led the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers to the Finals eight consecutive seasons. He is not used to losing.

“I want to win and give myself a chance to still compete for championships,” James told reporters Wednesday after the Lakers fell to the Heat, 112-98. “… To play basketball at this level just to play basketball is not in my DNA. It’s not in my DNA anymore.”

Why LeBron deserves statues with CLE, MIA and LAL

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You can’t blame James for his growing frustration.

While he’s still at the top of his game, he knows he needs help. For the first time in his career, he has referred to himself as the second choice, behind Davis. And throughout this season, he’s practically begged for help.

In October, he acknowledged that the Lakers aren’t “built for a big shot.” Then, after Davis suffered the right foot injury, James said last week, “We’re already a team without a lot of length and a little size.”

So if they don’t have roll, length or size, what do they have?

Clearly, an aging star and an often limping star are not enough, even if they are two of the best players in the world. The fact is, the Lakers need defense (they’re 22nd in the league) and they need shooting (they’re 25th in 3-point percentage).

Despite the Lakers’ challenges, James has tried to put the team on his shoulders.

Giannis, Luka and LeBron top Nick’s latest NBA pyramid

Giannis, Luka and LeBron top Nick's latest NBA pyramid

He recently had seven consecutive 30-point performances. He’s still barreling down with the power of a freight train, nimbly splitting defenders with dribbles, crashing the boards like he’s a decade younger, and dishing passes that display unmatched court sense.

The thing is, it’s no coincidence that James is playing so well two years shy of 40. He’s put so much time and thought into what we’re seeing now, which also helps explain his very understandable frustration. Throughout this season, James has been particularly introspective when asked about his resilience, often revealing insight into his process over the years.

He recently said that in his first 12 seasons in the league, he could rely on “super-duper athleticism” and didn’t have to be “so marked” in the game.

“I could go out and figure things out once I got in the air,” he said, adding, “I was going to be up there a lot longer than you.”

But James always knew that this was not sustainable in the long term. Therefore, he grew his game, so that he could be the best player in the world even when his timeout decreased. He said he actually used opposing coaches as tools to help him with that process, studying the way they chose to defend him, so he could shore up any holes in his game.

“Coach Pop has helped me by consistently going under pick-and-rolls,” James said in early December. “Dwane Casey and his defense that he had on me when we went to Dallas in the finals in Miami helped me. Rick Carlisle, also in part. So a lot of those coaches helped me get better because I knew that to be the best player I can be, and one of the greatest of all time, I could have no weaknesses.”

James also revealed a few weeks ago that he has focused on keeping his body sharp since he was in elementary school. From the age of 10, James said he would lie down both before going to bed and when he woke up. And in high school, he said he was one of the few kids who iced after games.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who coached James for four seasons from 2010 to 2014, told reporters Wednesday that James was “on the cutting edge” of taking care of his mind and body in the league, and he added that he would even do little things to stay. focused, such as keeping your closet tidy. He also said James is incredibly ahead of the curve when it comes to picking up new skills.

“I’d see something and work on it for a day, and then I’d try it in a game, and it would look like I’d been working on it for a couple of years,” Spoelstra said. “That’s how quickly he could assimilate and apply something.”

But the question is, how much longer can this last?

Even though James still defies the laws of time, there’s almost a sense of dread that comes with watching him play now, knowing that the sand is falling quickly through the hourglass.

And if the Lakers don’t make some serious changes soon, such an incredible athletic feat will be for naught.

Even though James’ body is holding up, his mind clearly can only take in so much of what’s going on around him.

It’s something James made clear after the Lakers’ loss on Christmas.

“How many times are you going to try to dig yourself out until you get too dirty?” he asked.

For James, the clock is ticking.

For the Lakers, the pressure is on to give James the shot he deserves.

And for the rest of us, we’d better appreciate what’s happening before our eyes before it’s too late.

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Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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