WASHINGTON • Wait him out or build a contender?
LeBron James presents a quandary to other National Basketball Association (NBA) Eastern Conference teams: At what point will the best basketball player in the world slow down?
"You look at the player who he is today," the Milwaukee Bucks' general manager John Hammond said. "How much longer can he play at this level, and when he's not at that level, can we take advantage of that? You want to be in position to take advantage of that when it does occur."
He would not concede anything to the Cleveland Cavaliers. "You're not giving in to that, or saying you can't beat them," he said.
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But James has left no doubt among his pursuers in the Eastern Conference. Determining when he will fade is a difficult problem, but it might be easier - and more realistic - than figuring out how to beat him.
The last LeBron-less team to represent the East in the Finals was the 2009-2010 Boston Celtics of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Every year since James joined the Miami Heat, since he infamously took his talents to South Beach and then returned home four years later, the Eastern Conference has been governed by one immutable rule: If you do not have LeBron James, you don't have a chance.
THE MOST DOMINANT PLAYER
He's still at the top of his game today, and how long he stays there is something we all deal with. But I don't know (that) we have the answer to how to deal with it.
JOHN HAMMOND, general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, on the James factor.
"His presence is almost unsurmountable," Hammond said. "You can talk about the MVP-type candidates and others. At the end of the day, the most dominant player in the game today is LeBron James.
"He's still at the top of his game today, and how long he stays there is something we all deal with. But I don't know (that) we have the answer to how to deal with it."
During his reign, James has both dominated and shaped the conference, influencing decisions and impacting the arcs of opposing franchises.
Recent NBA history is littered with franchises that made a run at him, only to fall short and tumble back into mediocrity or worse. Teams have endured full cycles of ascent and decline, never to seriously challenge a James-led team for supremacy in the East.
"If you're a team that thinks he's vulnerable, for either this year or even for the next two years, I think you're going to be mistaken, and I think you're going to get yourself in a lot of trouble," former Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager Bobby Marks said.
James led the NBA in minutes per game this season, his 14th in the league. He has never suffered a debilitating injury. He is a physical outlier, a superhuman in terms of size, strength, speed and durability.
"He looks better today than he did yesterday," Hammond said. "I would have no idea when (his decline) is going to occur. It sure doesn't seem like it's right around the corner."