LeBron James heads into 21st season in the NBA hungrier than ever as he looks to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a record-breaking 18th championship.
James, 38, finished last season in a downbeat mood, hinting at possible retirement after the Lakers were comprehensively beaten by the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals.
But a summer of rest and a reloaded roster has left James brimming with optimism as the Lakers launch the new season with a demanding road game in Denver on Tuesday.
Nowhere has James’ renewed sense of determination been more evident than in the Lakers pre-season.
Christian Wood, one of several new additions that have bolstered the Lakers roster in the off-season, revealed that James has routinely been the first player to arrive for training.
Determined to make a good impression, Wood said he had arrived early at a voluntary player-run training camp in San Diego recently — only to discover James had beaten him to it.
“I tried to be one of the first ones in… first person I see is LeBron James, already in a full sweat,” Wood told ESPN.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, meanwhile, says James, who turns 39 in December, has been training “like a rookie.”
“He’s been doing 6 a.m. workouts,” Pelinka said. “Probably been in our building as much as any player this off-season.
“Any team LeBron has played for, it has been pretty uniform that his work sets the tone.”
James will head into the new season as the oldest active player in the NBA.
But his statistics from the 2022-2023 campaign indicate he remains one of the most formidable individual talents in the league, when fit and firing.
Last year he averaged 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists in 55 games before leading the Lakers to the brink of the finals, in a season that saw him eclipse Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
– ‘Sky the limit’ –
The Lakers front office staff are mindful, however, that even allowing for James’ extraordinary longevity, the four-time NBA champion cannot carry the team on his own.
Accordingly, the Lakers have added offensive depth to the core of the reshaped roster that relied on steely defense to turn around last season’s campaign.
As well as Wood, the Lakers added the likes of Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, Cam Reddish and Jaxson Hayes.
“I think the sky is the limit for what we will be able to do,” Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said.
“We added a lot of depth, a lot of guys that have skill, size and athleticism. I look forward to all of that coming together.”
James, meanwhile, is confident that the Lakers have put the pieces in place to recapture an NBA crown they last won in the pandemic-disrupted 2019-2020 season. One more title would see the Lakers pull clear of the Boston Celtics with 18 championships.
“I’m very optimistic about how we can pick up from (last season),” James said at the Lakers recent media day.
“With the continuity and the chemistry, there shouldn’t be much teaching. We’re returning a lot of our core. We have a lot of guys that know the system that can pick up where we left off.
“I’m excited about us returning our core and bringing in a lot of very, very good players. But there’s no substitution for work and we have to put in the work.
“If we do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance to compete every single night at the highest level.”
While James has brushed off questions about whether this season could be his last, he is already scanning the horizon with next year’s Paris Olympics in mind, according to recent reports.
James says staying healthy in his body and mind will be central to his performances this term.
“It’s all about my health and my mindset,” James told ESPN recently.
“However your mind is, everything else falls into place. So, keeping my mind fresh, keeping it in tune, keeping it intact for the marathon will allow my body to perform after that.”