LeBron James has been the near-unanimous best basketball player in the world for the better part of a decade now and even as he entered his 16th NBA season — and his first season playing for the Los Angeles Lakers — that narrative didn’t change.
However, a Christmas Day groin injury that sidelined James for over a month coupled with the Lakers ultimately missing the 2019 NBA playoffs led to the end of that narrative. Before Kevin Durant’s Achilles injury in the 2019 NBA Finals, he was poised to take over that title as the league’s best player.
With James’ age and Durant’s injury now, it was Kawhi Leonard that took over as the best player in ESPN’s NBA Offseason Survey. While this news isn’t entirely shocking, what is the most surprising is that James didn’t receive a single vote, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN:
Kawhi Leonard – 12
Giannis Antetokounmpo – 6
James Harden – 2
While Leonard did end up winning by a considerable margin, it wasn’t an easy choice. Many who voted likely would’ve picked Durant had he been healthy and while James received zero votes, he did receive some strong’ consideration:
Leonard’s dominant playoff run led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA title. And while he got the most votes in our survey, there was plenty of hemming and hawing. Several people said they would’ve at least considered Kevin Durant — if not outright picked him — had he been healthy and not recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Others also gave strong consideration to LeBron James, although ultimately no one selected him.
It sounds absolutely ridiculous to say, but it seems that James might enter the 2019-20 NBA season as an underdog. He received no votes for best player, was named to the All-NBA Third Team for the first time in his career, and many will start to use his age as a reason why the Lakers won’t succeed.
Beyond just that, the Lakers have James and Anthony Davis and received zero votes to win the 2020 NBA Finals. It’s almost as if people have forgotten how good those two players are or they’re so enveloped in the hype of the Leonard/Paul George Los Angeles Clippers that they’ve completely ruled out other teams.
James will undoubtedly use this as motivation for Year 2 with the Lakers and will hopefully put the league on notice that even at 34-years-old, he isn’t going anywhere.