The Many Frontiers Heat's LeBron James Can Still Conquer
Pat Riley calls LeBron James "BOAT," an acronym for best of all time.
However, there are still many individual and team accomplishments that James needs to add to his resume before we can begin to put him in the realm of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird.
There will forever be debate about where James ranks among the greats, but the fact remains that he is in his prime, on top of the NBA world and has more than enough time to earn both individual and team accolades that will contribute to his all-time rank.
The many frontiers that James can still conquer revolve mainly around more championship rings, but also include additional MVP awards, scoring titles, NBA first-team berths and Defensive Player of the Year awards.
James already has won a multitude of individual awards.
He's a three-time MVP, a Finals MVP, an eight-time All-Star, two-time All-Star Game MVP, Rookie of the Year, 2008 scoring champion, six-time All-NBA first-team selection and four-time All-Defensive first-team pick.
That's enough for an automatic entrance into the Hall of Fame, but it's certainly not enough to be the "BOAT."
In comparison to James, where do Jordan and Johnson stand?
Michael Jordan has five more Finals MVPs, two more regular-season MVPs, six more All-Star appearances, nine more scoring titles and four more All-NBA first-team berths than James, while also winning the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Magic Johnson has two more Finals MVPs, an equal number of regular-season MVP awards, four more All-Star appearances and three more All-NBA first-team berths than James.
James still has a ways to go before he can match either of those all-time greats.
So, what more can he realistically accomplish (individually speaking) to put himself in the same breath as MJ, Magic, Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, etc?
First, James needs at least two more Finals MVPs and one more regular-season MVP award to get closer to the level of best of all time.
With James in his prime and playing MVP-caliber ball this season, it's realistic to predict that he will win his fourth MVP award this season. If not this year, there is still plenty of time to get a minimum of one more.
As far as Finals MVP, if James leads the Heat to another championship anytime in the next five years, it's safe to say that he figures to be the Finals Most Valuable Player. But, how many more titles James and the Heat can win is up for debate.
All-Star appearances are going to be a lock for LeBron for at least the next five years, barring a major injury, meaning he will finish with at least 13 All-Star appearances. That will put him right on pace with MJ and Magic.
The same theory holds true for All-NBA first-team honors. James will likely garner at least five more before he calls it quits. That will also put him on a similar level to many of the all-time greats.
The frontier that James needs to conquer is more scoring titles, as well as at least one Defensive Player of the Year award.
It's been well-documented that James is a very unselfish player, who cares more about team than individual success. He's always been a player who gets his teammates involved. He won't hesitate to pass up a shot if it means a teammate has a better one.
Despite his preference to be an all-around guy rather than a scoring machine, James could win the scoring title every year while still keeping his team-first mentality.
James has scored 20 or more points in every game to start this season, and he appears to do it effortlessly. It seemingly would be easy for him to average more than his current 26.3 points per game.
I watched @kingjames and the Heat against the Magic last night...it's scary how good he is. He could average 40pts a night if he wanted to!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 1, 2013
Individually speaking, it will be important for James to win at least two more scoring titles as long as that doesn't sacrifice team success, which likely wouldn't happen because of his all-around game.
Lastly, it's necessary for James to be the Defensive Player of the Year.
He has arguably deserved the award in the past, namely last season when Tyson Chandler was given the award because he anchored a defense-less Knicks squad.
Still, James ability to guard all positions efficiently on a nightly basis without succumbing to fatigue is truly amazing.
James has a combined career average of 2.5 steals and blocks per game.
He has the speed to defend a point guard like Derrick Rose, while having the strength to guard a big like Pau Gasol.
His commitment to defense is reminiscent of MJ, but he will need to bring home at least one DPOY award before he hangs up his shoes.
So, individually speaking, James can still realistically win two more regular-season MVPs, two more Finals MVPs, have five more All-Star game appearances, five more All NBA first-team honors, two scoring titles and one Defensive Player of the Year award before he retires.
If he can conquer those frontiers, expect James to be in same league as the unanimous greats.
The individual awards mean nothing without the rings.
Now that James finally earned that elusive first championship, he can focus on winning more titles and adding to his legacy.
While two or three rings would be respectable, there is no question that five is the bare minimum he needs if he wants to be in that top three discussion.
Both Johnson and Kobe Bryant have five rings, while Michael Jordan has six. That would mean James needs at least four more rings to enter Magic and Kobe's stratosphere.
At 28 years old and in his 10th year in the NBA, the clock is certainly ticking for James.
Regardless of how long James stays in elite form, winning championships still depends on his surrounding talent.
We don't know where the King will be after 2014, but it's safe to assume he will put himself in the best position to win as many titles as he can before he isn't the same elite player anymore.
Realistically, James figures to win at least one more championship with the Heat's current core. Beyond that, it is tough to say, but it's fair to say he will win at least two more.
While James is obviously striving to match or exceed MJ's six trophies, it's more realistic to think he will win two or three more before his career comes to end, based on his age and time in the league.
Kobe won his most recent title at 32 years old, while MJ was 35 when he won his sixth and final title.
For James to get to four rings by the age of 32, he'd have to win three out of the next four championships. For James to reach six rings by 35, he'd have to win five out of the next seven.
Based on those numbers, it's fair to say that James will likely finish with only three rings.
If James finishes with three rings, four MVPs, three Finals MVPs, 13 All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA first-team berths and one Defensive Player of the Year Award, he will unquestionably be ranked among the five greatest players of all time.
Where will LeBron James be considered when it's all said and done?
Since the NBA is all about winning championships and everyone is fixated on rings, it will be impossible for James to be the best of all time with only three titles under his belt.
While it's obviously possible for James to exceed the accomplishments stated in this article, it will be difficult because of his age, increasing competition and uncertainty surrounding the Miami Heat after 2014.
Regardless, expect James to conquer many frontiers before he hangs up his shoes.
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