LeBron James made his NBA debut on Oct. 29, 2003.
Fourteen years and nearly seven months later, he scored 44 points in a critical Eastern Conference Finals game and passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the all-time leader in postseason field goals made.
At 33, James is not showing signs of slowing down.
That’s why potentially hitting the free-agent market ahead of his 16th season puts him in a unique situation for teams pursuing the coveted MVP candidate.
This is a point in most NBA careers when players begin to wind down. The wear and tear of more than 1,100 regular-season and 230 playoff games start to catch up. The grind of 40.7 minutes a night this postseason alone should be a grind.
But James is not most players. He seems to be immune to breakdowns that tend to happen after 15 years of ultra-high level basketball. The three-time NBA champion has played in every game this season.
Veterans often sign shorter-term deals or take less money to play for a contender. James, though, isn’t a supplementary contributor. He is the go-to.
James is following up his 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.1 assists (including 18 triple-doubles) from the regular season with 33.7 points, 8.7 boards and 9.0 assists in the playoffs. On Monday, he became the first player since Allen Iverson in 2001 to score 40 points in six games during a single postseason.
James once again will be the most sought-after player on the market as he approaches free agency. He has a $35.6 million player option next season with the Cavaliers. It remains to be seen where he will be suiting up next season, whether he stays in Cleveland or shakes up the league and goes elsewhere.
The Sixers are among the teams with salary cap flexibility to go after James. President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and head coach Brett Brown have been candid about the need for additional talent to take the Sixers to title contention (see story).
“I think that another high-level free agent is required,” Brown said. “I feel like we have the ability to attract one. At some point, when the time is right, I think we need help to win a championship.”
Colangelo said, “To say this group can do it now, they obviously proved they couldn’t. Adding another talent and another piece is certainly something we’re striving for.”
The Sixers have been measured in their free-agent acquisitions to maintain flexibility for scenarios like this. While making a major commitment to a 15-year veteran usually is a financial risk, James has proved he’s anything but the usual.