LeBron James is the king of the NBA.
Damian Lillard knows it. Lillard also knows his place in the NBA landscape, also.
In our interview, I asked Lillard: If LeBron James is the Jay-Z of the NBA, Damian Lillard is what?
Lillard paused, smiled and said: “J. Cole.”
The first signee of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label in 2009, Cole’s debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story shot up to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and earned him a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.
The Dreamville founder and North Carolina native, Cole was front and center during NBA All Star Weekend in Charlotte. He was even a prop during the Slam Dunk Contest during the weekend.
Lillard averaged 25.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists in 80 games during the NBA’s regular season.
Lillard took it to another level when in the NBA playoffs and guided Rip City to the NBA’s Western Conference Finals.
They’d eventually lose the Warriors, but Lillard’s impact was incredible.
Back in March, Charles Barkley and TNT co-analyst, Kenny Smith both agreed that the Trail Blazers could make their first appearance in the NBA Finals since 1992.
“I like Portland in the Finals,” Barkley told me.
“With [Damian] Lillard and [CJ] McCollum. The addition of Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter. I like them in the West.”
“Charles, he can say someting crazy all of the time,” Kenny Smith told me.
“I don’t normally say it. I’m just saying, not every day in a seven game series. I’m talking about just three games: shoot six for ten in between to combat guys shooting four for ten from three point range. They have it, they have it! So to me, that separates them when they’ve been so close every year to get over the hump, that they can get to the Western Conference Finals and they’re a clear and present agent for the Warriors because the Warriors have had trouble with those two guards even in that set. And even, until this year, Oklahoma had trouble with those two guards; until this year.”
Meanwhile in Los Angeles: LeBron James is entering his 17th-year in the NBA. LBJ ranks 10th on the NBA’s all-time assists list (8,662).
According to NBA.com, LBJ is within striking distance of passing a pair of Hall of Famers in 2019-20: Gary Payton (whom he trails by 305 assists) and Isiah Thomas (400).
LeBron James’ first season in Los Angeles wasn’t as prosperous as many imagined.
He injured his groin on Christmas Day and returned to the Los Angeles Lakers’ lineup at the end of January after a very strenuous rehab process.
The Lakers missed also missed the NBA Playoffs and went into the offseason on a mission to get better.
“I like being uncomfortable in the offseason,” LeBron James told The Athletic’s Joe Vardon.
“I like being counted out. It motivates me.
“I’ve had basically the same offseason training regimen the last eight years,” LeBron added. “I knew how long I wanted to rest for the season on a short timeline. I’m figuring out now how to get as much as I can out of two months of extra time for training. It requires a totally different strategy. We’re looking at it in an entirely new way.”
“He didn’t really get to do his thing on the court,” ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne told the Scoop B Radio Podcast in the spring.
“With LeBron, he’s signed for four years and I think he’s as happy with how this went as anyone, I don’t think LeBron blames anyone for this, and so I thought about it, but that’s more of what it feels like, this first year didn’t go so well.”
The 6-foot-8 forward came into the league as a point guard will make a return to PG duties with a revamped Lakers roster.
For those tardy to the party: Six players have returned from last season. That list includes James, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso.
Lakers newcomers include Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Jared Dudley, Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels and rookie Talen Horton-Tucker.
The Lakers also have a new head coach in Frank Vogel and assistant coach in Jason Kidd.
Both the Blazers and Lakers begin NBA training camp this month.