Now in his 14th NBA season, you'd think LeBron James would be starting to slow down given all the wear and tear on his body from seven different runs to the Finals.
But as hard to believe as it sounds on the surface, James might be playing the best basketball of his career at the age of 32. He's coming off a series against the third-seeded Raptors in which he averaged 36 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in the Cavs' four-game sweep.
And dating back to last season, James has led the Cavs to 11 straight playoff wins, starting with the improbable rally from a 3-1 deficit to beat Golden State in the Finals.
Early in his career, James would often defer to his teammates in the closing minutes of tight games, saying it was all about making the right basketball play. Now, James has so much confidence in his own ability that he's able to control the flow of the game from start to finish, knowing when to get his teammates involved and when the situation dictates he should take over as a scorer.
Opposing teams used to challenge James to shoot long jumpers by going under screens to cut off his driving lanes. Now, that strategy has been rendered ineffective with James hitting almost 47 percent of his shots from 3-point range during this year's playoffs.
And forget about trying to take advantage of James getting worn down by playing extended minutes. He's averaging 42.4 minutes per game this postseason but never appears to be tired, obviously helped along by the fact the Cavs' two sweeps earned the players a week off between playoff rounds.
James has already established himself as the greatest small forward to play the game, now he's taking dead aim at Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the title of the greatest player period. James will probably pass Jordan during the current playoff run as the all-time leading postseason scorer, and before he's ready to retire, he'll probably pass Abdul-Jabbar for the No. 1 spot on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
Sure, James' 3-4 record in the Finals is the one blemish on his incredible resume, but looking back at those series, the 2011 Finals against Dallas and maybe the 2014 series against San Antonio would be the only times James' team lost to an underdog opponent.
James is virtually indestructible, rarely missing games for anything other than scheduled rest during the regular season. He's likely headed to a seventh straight Finals appearance, destroying just about every other Eastern Conference challenger along the way, including Doc Rivers' Celtics, Frank Vogel's Pacers and Tom Thibodeau's Bulls.
Given his effectiveness right now, it's easy to project the Cavaliers owning the East for at least another three years, with James going strong until the age of 40. When James is finally ready to hang up his signature shoes, he'll likely own just about every significant scoring record in the game, and he's already the top assist man among all forwards.
After having the pleasure of watching much of Jordan's career in person, I'm still going with Jordan as the greatest competitor and individual talent in the history of the game. But James will surely wind up on just about everyone's Mt. Rushmore of all-time greats alongside Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar and your choice of a fourth player: Wilt Chamberlain? Bill Russell? Magic Johnson?
And the scariest thing for other Eastern Conference teams? LeBron is still getting better.
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With the Raptors and Jazz eliminated after getting swept in the conference semifinals, front offices for both teams head into an uncertain offseason.
Will Toronto really commit to five more years and more than $200 million to 31-year-old point guard Kyle Lowry after a second straight demolition at the hands of Cleveland? General manager Masai Ujiri gave DeMar DeRozan a max contract last summer, and since the Raptors wouldn't have enough cap room available to find a suitable replacement for Lowry, they probably have little choice but to double down with a new contract for their All-Star point guard.
Re-signing mid-season trade acquisition Serge Ibaka is a much tougher choice. Ibaka will also be looking for a max deal, but he's not the elite defender he was when he came into the league and really isn't much of a low-post scoring threat. Sure, a stretch four like Ibaka will have value on the free-agent market, but the Raptors would have to go deep into the luxury tax to keep him.
The Jazz qualify as one of the NBA's better stories this past season after getting back to the playoffs with 51 wins and winning a seven-game first-round playoff series against the Clippers. Center Rudy Gobert emerged as a defensive force while also becoming more of a threat in the pick-and-roll game. Trade acquisition George Hill solidified the offense with his steady play at point guard, and Gordon Hayward made the All-Star team for the first time in his career.
But both Hayward and Hill are free agents, and if they decide to sign elsewhere the Jazz could turn out to be a one-year wonder. Hayward has already been linked to the Celtics, where his old college coach at Butler, Brad Stevens, has done an outstanding job on the bench. Like most veteran free agents, Hayward would have to leave a ton of money on the table to change teams, but given Boston's situation as a rising power in the East, he'll certainly be tempted to make the jump. If the Celtics somehow manage to sign Hayward in free agency and draft top college prospect Markelle Fultz, they could be primed to give the Cavaliers a serious challenge next season.
Speaking of draft prospects, Chicago is the home of the annual NBA Draft Combine this week at Quest Multisport. Most of the top-10 prospects have decided to skip the process entirely, including the measurements and media interviews, but NBA scouts, coaches and executives will get a chance to evaluate 67 invited players, including Fultz and Kentucky point guard De'Aaron Fox.
With the league considering expanded rosters that include two-way contracts for young prospects, more players than ever are expected to remain in the draft with the chance to catch on with an NBA team and get paid a decent salary to develop while playing for a D-League affiliate.
The Bulls hold the 16th and 38th picks in the June 22 draft, so you know they'll be well represented at Quest this week, searching for shooters and athletes to add to a roster that figures to look very similar to the one that finished 41-41 this past season.