The 2022 NBA All-Star Game weekend confirmed a long-running league rumor. LeBron James plans to join his son Bronny James Jr's team when he leaps to the NBA, whatever team that may be.
This creates a fascinating "What If?" across the league as teams potentially drafting Bronny James will know that comes with having LeBron James' final season. With that, how many teams might pass on superior prospects in the 2024 class for the chance to draft Bronny James? How many teams will bank on LeBron following wherever Bronny lands?
It's important to say two things here: one, Bronny James is an exceptional athlete and is better at basketball now than roughly 99% of the global population. Two, he's 17-years old and has at least two more seasons of Sierra Canyon High School/college development before he enters the NBA draft. At this point, is just as likely that Bronny James Jr. will take his talents to Kansas or Kentucky as it is for him to move right to the NBA.
This hypothetical scenario might seem like a criticism of Bronny's current projection. We're just going with the facts we have at this moment though. Right now, Bronny James is not viewed as the NBA superstar in waiting that his MVP father was. He's ranked 34th in his recruiting class.
The decision NBA franchises will have to make in 2024 comes down to weighing how much value they will put on a LeBron James career finale in their team's jersey. In an article by CBS Sports' Sam Quinn, he said, "Even a non-superstar version of James, earning below market value on what will likely be a minimum or mid-level contract, is worth a decent first-round pick based on what those picks tend to net on the trade market." Two other massive factors for teams to consider will be:
This might be disappointing to most fans, but your team's governor likely cares more about making money than anything else related to their NBA franchise. Sure, they want the team to be successful but a big piece of that is because winning teams equal sell-out crowds.
Imagine a team struggling to get anyone to care or show up to games now can say LeBron's final performances will be happening in their building. Would that be worth more to NBA governors than drafting a player who projects to be a better player than Bronny? Almost undoubtedly so.
Free Agency Allure
We have seen how popular it is for NBA players to join forces and form super teams. Well, drafting the LeBron/Bronny combo should be an intriguing destination for players looking for new jobs that summer. It obviously wouldn't be the same as teaming with prime LeBron, but don't discount the factor for some players of having an opportunity to play with LeBron (even if it's just for his final season).
Draft night 2024 will be decision day for franchises weighing the massive, short-term benefits of drafting Bronny vs. the uncertain long-term future of a potentially superior prospect. This is going to be a fascinating moment for NBA history.
But what's the fun in waiting two more years? Instead, let's imagine Bronny James is going to be eligible for the 2022 NBA Draft, and that LeBron James will turn 40 years old this summer.
Let's look at how far Bronny/LeBron can climb!
The No-Brainer Teams
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- Memphis Grizzlies (Pick #29 / #22)
- Golden State Warriors (#28)
- Miami Heat (#27)
- Dallas Mavericks (#26)
- Milwaukee Bucks (#24)
- Philadelphia 76ers (#23)
- Denver Nuggets (#21)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (#19)
- Chicago Bulls (#18)
- Atlanta Hawks (#16)
- Charlotte Hornets (#13 / #15)
All of these teams made the playoffs or the play-in game. The idea of adding a 40-year-old LeBron to that level of team for even one season is worth "downgrading" the potential of a first-round pick. The fanbases for these teams should not get their hopes up though as it's highly unlikely Bronny would slip to them.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (#14)
The Cavaliers are a team trending in the right direction. The Collin Sexton/Darius Garland situation likely will need an ultimate solution that sees one player going elsewhere, but whoever is left plus Evan Mobley and what they might receive from dealing Sexton or Garland would be an enticing core.
Would it be an attractive and storybook ending for LeBron? And a comfortable place for his son to begin his career? Absolutely.
Would a franchise that has seen LeBron walk out on them TWICE already be so quick to welcome back "The King", even after he led the team to their lone title? That's a little murkier. Remember Dan Gilbert's letter when LeBron left in 2010?
The hatchet from that time was buried when LeBron returned before, but some wounds never truly heal. Could Gilbert and the Cavs relish an opportunity to keep LeBron from getting what he wants? No, they'd probably still draft Bronny, but it was worth discussing.
The No-Pick Teams
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- Phoenix Suns
- Boston Celtics
- Utah Jazz
- Toronto Raptors
- Brooklyn Nets
- Los Angeles Clippers
We are pretending the Bronny draft is happening this summer, but we also can't ignore the draft capital some teams have amassed for 2024 (more on them later) and the teams who currently will not have any chance of picking Bronny in the first round.
Things can always change, but it looks like potential KD-LeBron or Kawhi-LeBron pairings will continue to be pipe dreams in NBA history. Also, it would have been cool for these two to have been eventual teammates:
#TBT to Jayson Tatum as a kid taking a picture with LeBron James... pic.twitter.com/EghN3lrd92
— Celtics Direct (@CelticsDirect) October 26, 2017
The Current Situation
- Los Angeles Lakers (N/A)
Would you say it's going well for the purple and gold? Unless things change significantly it seems likely LeBron would make it clear to the Lakers front office that finishing his career elsewhere is best for everyone.
The Teams About to Deal a Star
- Washington Wizards (#10)
- Portland Trail Blazers (#7)
Nothing is guaranteed but it feels like both teams are trending towards dealing their stars, Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard. Now, it's arguable that pairing either player with LeBron could reinvigorate the franchise.
However, if both teams are at a place where they are ready to trade their best player it doesn't make sense that getting one season of 40-year-old LeBron should warrant a course change.
These would be the first teams where passing on Bronny might be the best option.
The Historical Pairings
- New York Knicks (#11)
- San Antonio Spurs (#9 / #20 / #25)
Lebron & MSG or LeBron & Pop.
Either would be great for the league, the team and LeBron.
New Orleans' Last Chance?
- New Orleans Pelicans (#8)
Things are not going great for former No. 1 pick Zion Williamson in New Orleans. Giving him the chance to play with LeBron would be must-see TV (assuming Zion is healthy) and might re-energize Williamson.
This could be just the thing to get Zion to start planning for a long-term future in New Orleans. Or, Pelicans ownership milks this for every last penny they can, then deal Zion and Bronny after LeBron retires.
- Indiana Pacers (#6)
- Sacramento Kings (#4)
Adding LeBron/Bronny would seem like slam dunks for both franchises. However, the Sabonis/Haliburton trade was so unexpected that it feels like anything can now happen with these teams. It's almost irresponsible to make a prediction how these franchises would think at this point.
The Overstocked War Chest
- Oklahoma City Thunder (#2 / #12 / #30)
As mentioned earlier, no team has amassed more draft capital than the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC could have up to four first round picks in the 2022 draft (and up to EIGHT in 2024). This team is building for the future around its young talent, but with that many swings on draft day it'd be an easy decision to use a pick on LeBron/Bronny.
It could even make sense for this team to package some picks and trade up to ensure LeBron finishes his career in the NBA megamarket that is Oklahoma City. Wait...what?
The No-Thanks Teams
- Detroit Pistons (#5)
- Houston Rockets (#3 / #17)
- Orlando Magic (#1)
Adding LeBron James to your team, even for one season, provides tremendous value to your franchise. And maybe Bronny James ultimately blossoms to higher potential than thought possible in the NBA. It's just not worth these three teams rolling that dice for one LeBron season and a flier on Bronny's career arc when the alternative is a top-five pick.
These teams all have players who had impressive rookie seasons, giving their fans highly optimistic views for the future. The allure of adding a top-five prospect to their young cores is too good to pass up for one season of the first/second best player ever.
In conclusion, LeBron pairing himself with his son's draft stock is likely going to rise Bronny's pick slot considerably. There would be a handful of teams who will opt to pass on the short-term benefits of Lebron's final season in their uniform. Bronny's likely selection will still come in the middle of the lottery (or possibly even higher).
This obviously wasn't an exercise in exact science, but that is what makes this eventual situation so fascinating. Almost anything can happen and almost any team could be the potential final team LeBron calls home.
See you in 2024 (at the earliest)!
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