TORONTO: In the scope of Kobe Bryant’s final All-Star Game, LeBron James considered his basketball mortality.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think about it,” James said of retirement. “Obviously you look at Kobe’s generation with Kobe and Duncan and Dirk and KG to name a few (and) we’re the next generation that comes after that — meaning myself, Chris Paul, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, Melo.
“I’ve got so many great years left to play the game. At some point, it’s inevitable we’re all going to have to come to an end.”
More pressing is James’ basketball immortality. He is one of the game’s greatest players (top five perhaps when it’s all over), but right now in his career, it’s about winning another championship and adding a third ring to his collection.
It’s more than that, too: Winning one for Cleveland, a city that has not experienced a championship in a major sport since the Browns won the NFL championship in 1964. James understands that, also.
It is a weight he accepted.
With 30 games remaining in the regular season and pressure building — especially since firing David Blatt and promoting Tyronn Lue when Blatt had the Cavs atop the Eastern Conference midway through the season — the Cavs don’t have much time.
“If we continue to do what Coach Lue and the coaching staff wants us to do and mentally prepare ourselves for the long haul, we’ll be fine,” James said.
James, 31, believes in the process of improving daily — practice to practice and game to game — and doesn’t like to shortcut the process. But these Cavs need to at least accelerate the process.
“We’ve got to continue to get better every day,” James said. “If we do that, we give ourselves a good chance to play with anybody.”
Since Lue replaced Blatt, the Cavs are 8-3 with victories against San Antonio and Indiana but losses to Chicago, Charlotte and Boston.
In those 11 games, the Cavaliers have scored 111.6 points (good) and allowed 105.9 points (not good) per 100 possessions.
“Our defense is worse,” Lue said. “We’re scoring a lot of points now. We’re playing faster and we’re playing with pace. But in doing that, guys are not in great shape yet, so now we’re saving it for the offensive end and not competing on the defensive end. So now we’ve got to try to get both ends of the floor.”
Despite the defensive problems, the coaching change has re-ignited James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. When those three are on the court, Cleveland has scored 113.1 points and allowed 101 points per 100 possessions. Love is playing with greater desire, and Irving is getting better since returning on Dec. 20 from his knee injury.
Still, they need more production and improvement, especially defensively.
“Every piece that we have means a lot to the process,” James said. “Obviously with myself, Kyrie and Kev, we spearhead the whole thing. …
“The game of basketball is more mental than anything especially when you get into the postseason. The mental side of the game gets you over the hump.”
The favorites to win the East — though their path to the NBA Finals should be more difficult this season — the Cavs likely will not be favored in the Finals if they get there.
“There’s so many good teams in the East that everyone’s a threat if you’re not playing a high level and they still can be a threat even when you’re playing at a high level,” James said.
“That would be a disservice to what we need to do if we just only thought about Golden State.”
James acknowledged the Warriors play with consistency and no complacency. The Cavs at times have lacked consistency and played with too much complacency.
The Warriors are putting on a special kind of performance this season, and of course, there’s no guarantee they repeat either. More than any current player, James knows how difficult it is to win one — having lost in the Finals four times.
Basketball immortality and mortality being what they are, James wants to accomplish more, fully aware that the hourglass on his NBA career is fuller at the bottom than it is at the top.
He has work to do.