For just the second time since 2010, a LeBron James-led playoff team isn't going to appear in the NBA Finals. The 36-year-old veteran is home early this summer, as his defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, fatigued and injury-battered, were bounced by the Phoenix Suns in the West's opening round.
Although James is a rookie when it comes to first-round playoff exits -- he had previously owned a perfect 14-0 career record during those series -- one of his former star teammates, newly elected Hall of Famer Chris Bosh, isn't too worried about James sustaining his competitive drive. He believes the fire is still years away from dying out.
"I would say that there is a challenge to keeping the flame lit. Now, when we say keeping the flame lit for [LeBron] as an athlete, we're talking about people saying, 'You're falling off because you're only averaging 27 points a game,'" Bosh told the Tiki and Tierney show on Thursday. "And up until a few weeks ago, a few days ago, he was a defending champ, the defending NBA Finals MVP, and in the MVP race before he got hurt. So, those are just parts that come with it. You always need to find a new challenge.
"But I'll tell you one thing about LeBron: he loves basketball. Sure, there will be days where it gets tough. But when you lose in the first round and you haven't lost regardless of it being tough -- I mean, think about it, they only had two months off. We get cranky when we don't have our offseason. If I don't get my offseason, it's not good for anybody... What was usually his time has gotten shorter. But the Lakers? They'll be fine.
"They'll be right there in a position [to win again]. He's right there in the driver's seat. And if he needed any motivation, he's got plenty for this year. And plenty of time to sit, think, reset, regroup, see where he's at. Because everybody in the league that's competing, they haven't even been able to do that for the last year and a half. They've just been playing basketball."
James, who played in only 45 games this season due to a high ankle sprain, averaged 25.0 points per game with 7.7 assists and 7.8 rebounds. During the Lakers' six playoff games against Phoenix, the four-time league MVP scored 23.3 points on average, along with 7.2 rebounds, 8.0 assists, and 1.5 steals.
Last December, James signed a two-year, $85 million contract extension with the Lakers. The deal will take him through the 2022-23 season, and give him 20 total seasons in the NBA. James will be 38 when the contract ends.
The entire NBA conversation between Bosh and Tiki and Tierney can be accessed in the audio player above.