The 2021-22 NBA regular season doesn’t begin until Oct. 19, but LeBron James already has all the motivation he needs.
With most major business from the NBA offseason completed, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps reached out to 10 scouts and league executives to review the best, worst and most surprising moves of the past few weeks. Bontemps also posed what always proves to be an interesting question to the panel: Who is the best player in the NBA heading into the 2021-22 campaign?
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And the winner is … wait, it’s a tie! Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant received five votes apiece, and it’s easy to see why both players would be held in such high regard. Antetokounmpo guided the Bucks to their first championship in half a century, snagging the NBA Finals MVP trophy along the way. Durant looked very much like the old KD during the NBA playoffs, then led the U.S. men’s basketball team to the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
The results were notable not just because of the split, but also because of who was missing. James didn’t earn a single vote — and yes, the Lakers star definitely noticed. The “Washed King” narrative is back, folks.
(Some important context here: Bontemps noted that James was mentioned by those who were polled and said it was “clear all three stars were on a level unto themselves at this point.” The scouts and executives still believe James is a top-three player in the league, just not necessarily No. 1.)
This has happened to James before. When Bontemps asked 20 coaches, scouts and executives the same question in 2019, Kawhi Leonard (12), Antetokounmpo (six) and James Harden (two) were the only players who received votes. James went on to win the NBA title in the Florida “bubble” the next season, and he was the most popular name in the 2020 offseason survey. Win it all, get votes — seems like a pretty simple formula.
James may not be pleased about the final tally, but Lakers fans should be. Getting a highly motivated LeBron worked out well for them last time.
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