Last week, LeBron James experienced a first-round playoff exit for the first time in his illustrious career, as the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers -- fatigued and injury-battered -- lost in six games to the Phoenix Suns.
While the championship window hasn't yet closed on the 36-year-old James, who will enter his 19th NBA season this coming fall, there will be new faces in the Finals this summer. And with James now watching the playoffs from his couch, some fans are wondering, who will carry the NBA once James retires?
Former NBA player and current podcast host B.J. Armstrong believes it might not be an American-born superstar.
"There's really no formula to prepare you for carrying the mantle of the best player in the NBA," Armstrong told the Tiki and Tierney show on Tuesday. "But as you look around the league -- I've been saying this for quite some time -- the best young players in this league are all foreign-born players. You just mentioned Luka Doncic. We didn't mention him, but Giannis [Antetokounmpo] is certainly the back-to-back MVP. You look at [Nikola] Jokic, Jokic could be the MVP this year. You look at Joel Embiid, who was an MVP candidate this year, even though he had some injuries...
"The international game is really making this truly a global game. So, I think the best young players... we don't know where the best young player is going to come from, but certainly right now, whatever they're doing abroad is having those young players better prepared for professional basketball and the NBA... They're really dominating at the top-tier, if you say the top ten, of the NBA. Maybe half of that list is foreign-born players...
"Being in this basketball world for 25-30 years, you've seen the growth. I think the rest of the world has just literally caught up. The game is truly a global game, and the popularity of the game... watching [Michael] Jordan and these guys in '92 is when it all changed for everyone, whether or not we were aware of it here, domestically... It's not a matter of [the U.S. lacking stars] or not doing what we've always done. The rest of the world has just caught up..."
On Tuesday, Denver Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic became just the sixth international player -- and third European -- to win the league's MVP award. The 26-year-old Serbian native finished the regular season with career-best averages of 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists, and according to ESPN Stats & Info, he joined Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook as the only players in NBA history to ever average at least 25-10-8 for a season.
As for star center Joel Embiid, who was one of the MVP finalists and led the Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference, he averaged a career-high 28.5 points with 10.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 51 regular season games.
The entire NBA conversation between Armstrong and Tiki and Tierney can be accessed in the audio player above.