Commentary

Chasing another ring, not his tail

Updated: October 8, 2012, 4:16 PM ET
By Israel Gutierrez | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- You'd think, after the past 10 months he experienced, that LeBron James would be able to live in the now.

You'd think he'd be able to have a discussion without being psychoanalyzed.

After all, he did just have one of the most impressive calendar years any individual playing basketball has ever had, with an NBA MVP award, a Finals MVP award, his first league title and his second Olympic gold.

And yet, there was Heat media day late last month, and there went question after question that requested LeBron crawl inside his own head again and explain exactly what's going on in there.

Three different ways to ask LeBron what his "motivation" is after winning a title -- as if winning it again isn't motivation enough.

A handful more wondering how many more championships LeBron "needs" to win to secure a proper legacy and all-time standing.

You'd think he answered all those questions -- even if he didn't literally answer them with his words -- with his performances throughout a trying, condensed season and especially in the final three rounds of the postseason.

But alas, the intrigue with LeBron James never stops at his talents or his accomplishments.

They have always extended beyond that, into the psyche of a man who has been in the most intense of spotlights since he was a boy. Well, perhaps he has earned at least an adjournment from the constant questioning of his mindset. A mental breather, if you will, for a player whose physical talents should be captivating enough.

At least for this observer, this LeBron James season -- and quite possibly the rest of his career, should he keep this up -- isn't about where his mind is but strictly about watching and appreciating where his basketball skills take him and his team.

That feeling of invincibility -- the one that comes with being unstoppable even when the stakes are the highest -- is one James never truly experienced until these past several months.

And where that takes him from here on out might be even more entertaining to watch than his run through the last postseason. "He may surprise us again this year," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLeBron James is focused on winning NBA title No. 2.

Now, to LeBron's credit, he has found a way to dismiss the legacy and mindset questions as much, and as respectfully, as possible. Last season, he discovered a method to separate on-court actions from off-court judgments, lessening the burden of winning to the point that it no longer weighed him down.

He's not going to mix those back up now.

So even when his coach says LeBron "has a great sense of legacy -- not only his personal legacy, but this team's legacy," the MVP won't go there himself.

"For me, I go out there, I prepare myself and I kind of just let my game figure its course out," James said. "I let everybody else figure, at the end of my career, where do I rank. I don't go out there saying, 'Let me do these things so I can rank with the greats.' I just kind of let my game do the talking.

"I'll be satisfied with my career, because I knew how I approached it."

Thinking ahead doesn't work for LeBron -- certainly not the way it has for, say, Kobe Bryant, who has always tried to follow the career path of Michael Jordan.

Thinking about now, about taking advantage of being the undisputed best player on the planet, is what's going to allow James to carve out the proper legacy.

We all saw what happened -- how he became frighteningly efficient on top of being a physical marvel -- when he refined his post game last season.

Well, there are only plans to improve that. In part because playing power forward, as he did for most of the playoffs, will be an even more regular occurrence for LeBron this year. And in part because there's simply so much more to learn.

That's why after the team's second practice of training camp, LeBron worked on his right-hand sweeping hook shot across the lane while the rest of his teammates practiced the more conventional jumpers.

"Just trying to develop my game, continue to expand it," James said. "That's where I'll be spending most of my time this year, unless I get a rebound and break out. But I'll be spending most of my time in that paint, so I've got to get comfortable down there."

And that is what's intriguing about watching LeBron this season. Not what motivation he draws but simply how his already unstoppable game evolves.

Imagine the possibilities with LeBron sharing the floor with Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh and Rashard Lewis.

How do you defend that lineup? How will LeBron take advantage of such freedom, such space, with so many threats around him? The pressure moments? They''ll come.

The opportunity to win his second ring? That'll probably come, too.

And with those will come the further formation of his legacy.

But focusing on that now, when he's just starting the building process and when he's just so much fun to watch perform, is unfair to someone who seemed to have answered all those queries already.

"It's how it's been for me for a long time now," James said. "It's nothing new. It's nothing different. That doesn't bother me. I know what I'm here for. I've got to help not only myself continue to get better, but also our team.

"Once I'm done, then guys can shape my career however they want to. It don't matter."

But he's not done. Not even close. He's not even done improving.

So it's only fair we finally let LeBron get up off the therapist couch and just enjoy what we're witnessing.

Israel Gutierrez is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.