Saturday will mark the fifth time that LeBron James and Kyrie Irving have squared off since going their separate ways. But in the face of all the noise that's comes with turbulent and taxing seasons in both Los Angeles and Boston, this will be the first time that perhaps they meet with mutual longing for happier times.
James will likely miss the playoffs, certainly not what he had in mind for his first season with the Lakers.
Irving will likely face more questions about his suddenly uncertain future, certainly not what he had in mind returning to a loaded Celtics team that opened the season as prohibitive favorites in the Eastern Conference.
With the two former superstar teammates set to tango on Sunday, here are some of the biggest questions swirling around their reunion in Los Angeles.
Has this season changed your overall view on Kyrie Irving?
Oh boy, this is a loaded question - but the answer is yes.
When the Celtics traded for Kyrie before the start of last season, they knew they were getting a young superstar in the making who was hungry to add more championships to his resume, but this time as Batman, not Robin.
You know how that season plays out - Hayward gets injured and misses the entire year. Irving gets hurt and misses the playoffs. Their young core, forced to grow much faster than expected, strung together one of the most improbable playoff runs in recent history. Many believed their growth would only benefit Boston this season but it seems the amount of talent on the roster has almost hindered them for the majority of the year.
I believed that Irving was ready to be the leader of his own team, but when things didn't go as planned and adversity hit, he grew more and more frustrated.
Their three-game losing streak in January seemed to be the breaking point - calling out the "young guys," becoming visibly unhappy with the way things were going, the whole "I don't owe anybody s-" comment in response to if he'll re-sign at the end of the season.
He caved to the pressure of the media, and who wouldn't? Constantly being drilled after every game about why his team isn't performing to the unruly level of expectation that was set for them at the start of the season. The problem is, he asked for it, and I'm not sure he knew what he was getting into.
I still think he can be a good leader, but up until this point, I don't think he was as ready as he thought he was to lead his own team.
I think we all learned more about Kyrie than we expected to this season and it caught us by surprise. But there is still time for him to show he can lead this team to reach their potential, and I still think they will go to the NBA Finals. It's just been a more dramatic road than expected, and a lot of that falls on Kyrie.
- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
Does missing the playoffs alter LeBron's legacy?
I don't think so.
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If this was happening 3-5 years ago, maybe there's a discussion to be had. But to me, LeBron has been doing this for so long that missing the playoffs this season - especially after he's made the Finals eight years in a row and won multiple championships - shouldn't change his legacy for the worse. He's been in the spotlight since he was a teenager and not only has he met absolutely every expectation, he's exceeded them.
For that reason, not making the playoffs at his age with the amount of mileage he has on a team that wasn't exactly built around his strengths shouldn't be an indicment on his legacy.
I can see why people might and will use it against him, but I already consider LeBron to be the greatest player of all time. I'm not sure there's anything that can happen this season or next that can change that given how dominant he's been to this stage of his career.
- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)
How many championships should they have won together?
I think they hit the sweet spot with one.
I'm tempted to say that I feel underwhelmed and somewhat short-changed by their time spent together, that three years wasn't nearly long enough given the context behind their three straight Finals runs and that they vanquished the 73-win Warriors in one of the most iconic series in NBA Finals history. In 2015, Irving fractured his kneecap in Game 1 and didn't play the rest of a series that went to six games anyways. In 2017, both of them balled out in a series that could have easily taken on another life had Kyle Korver not missed a wide open corner three to potentially ice Game 3.
I'm tempted to say that their book in Cleveland should still be in progress, that they could have waited out the Warriors and played another five or six seasons together. Had that happened, who knows how many they could have won together.
And yet I completely understand why Kyrie Irving wanted out, why he wanted to spread his wings and why he felt the need to try his luck as the lead singer. Even if there are seeds of doubt or moments of second-guessing nearly two years later, it's hard to look back and say that what happened didn't make sense at the time, even if there was a road back to reconciliation.
This wasn't Shaq and Kobe, whose basketball marriage lasted eight years before ultimately running its course. Could they have stuck it out longer? Sure. But we saw that potential fully realized in the form of a three-peat.
- Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13)
Who is more likely to win a championship over the next three years?
This is a tough one not knowing what will happen in the future with both guys. LeBron will be a Laker for the next three years, but who will be around to help him get to the promise land once again. Will he be able to will his team through a long season and mentally draining playoff run - especially in a market like L.A.?
So with that being said, I'm going with Kyrie. Yes, he's been a pain in the you know what this season, but his talent is still elite. Amongst all the outside noise he's created this year, he's quietly having the best season of his career.
The looming dark cloud of free agency is lurking and whether or not he signs with the Celtics will be a big factor on if and how many kicks at the can he gets at winning a ring. Let's assume he stays in Boston long term and they finally figure it out on the court. With Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Brad Stevens, you still have to believe in the potential that they'll eventually not only get to the Finals but bring another title back to Boston.
LeBron is not washed up by any means, but he's on the downside of his career. I'll take Kyrie's youth and the current Celtics' roster. Besidesm, you never know, they may be the ones who ended up with Anthony Davis when all is said and done.
- Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay)