NBA Draft: Bronny James, trade bait?

Bronny James. Bronny James. Bronny James.

The 2024 NBA Draft is upon us and the most recited name is a 6-foot-1 guard who averaged 4.8 points, 2.1 assists and 2.8 rebounds as mostly a bench player for a 15-18 USC team. If anything it was a triumph considering last fall James went into cardiac arrest after a preseason workout. No one knew if he’d play again.

When it comes to NBA potential, though, his game doesn’t do much to excite fans. A good defender and high character guy? Cool, but he’s projected to go in the second round mainly because his father's team, the Los Angeles Lakers, owns the 55th overall pick.

The NBA picked an interesting year to begin stretching its annual draft over a two-day period. Round 1 will take place Wednesday at 8 p.m. Coverage of Round 2 will begin at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

“We believe that teams will benefit from being able to regroup between rounds,” the NBA’s head of basketball operations, Joe Dumars, said.

Perhaps, but this is what scouts are calling the least talented draft in memory, which has, in turn, made it the least exciting and least anticipated by fans. If last year was the start of the Victor Wembanyama Era, this one is, well, who the heck are these guys?

Some will pan out, but the collective enthusiasm over Zaccharie Risacher, Alex Sarr, Matas Buzelis and so on isn’t exactly moving the needle. There are a few semi-familiar guys from UConn and other college teams, but you can’t find many in the NBA excited about this group.

“There will be lottery picks that might have been second-rounders in other years,” said one NBA personnel director.

It happens.

Then comes Bronny James, who soaked up a lot of the pre-draft hype because the top of the draft is boring, he’s got a famous name and LeBron previously said he wanted to play with his eldest before retiring. Plus, it involves the Lakers, who command an outsized amount of coverage.

As for Bronny as a player, it’s lukewarm at best. NBA media coverage is filled with favors for certain power agents, meaning Bronny isn’t the first prospect to get kid-glove treatment. Any potential positive trait has been hyped. Others in the league are less convinced.

“I think there are teams who believe he is an NBA player,” said one Western Conference assistant coach. “What I’ve seen is a kid who is nowhere near ready. He is a very good athlete and small. He doesn’t dribble well or shoot it great.”

The truth is as a second-round pick in a bad draft, maybe he’s worth a flier. It's not like the 55th pick is expected to do much anyway, especially not at first.

Last year it was Isaiah Wong, who played four total minutes and scored two points for Indiana. In 2022 it was Gui Santos, who spent his rookie season in the G-League.

Maybe Bronny fits in there.

Of course, in 2021, Oklahoma City landed Aaron Wiggins, who started 35 games and remains a rotation player. Nice pick.

What seems highly possible is that L.A. will grab Bronny at 55, which means the most intriguing thing is whether another team steps in front and takes him merely as trade bait.

Put it this way, when in the history of these things has one team been so publicly linked to a pick so deep in the draft? It’s one thing to plot out the first few slots, but 55?

If Bronny hasn’t been selected Thursday afternoon, wouldn't it make sense if you are the Boston Celtics, sitting at 54, to take him away from the Lakers and demand a 2025 second-round pick (or even a player or more picks) in return? The Lakers are the one franchise that has extra reason to value him, after all.

Presumably a second-round pick next year is better than the 55th pick in the worst draft in decades. Plus you’d get to hassle your archrival. What’s the risk? This could be “Curb Your Enthusiasm” spite-store-type stuff.

And if Bronny is worth taking a shot at 54, why wouldn’t he be at 52 or 48 or who knows how high? Why wouldn't any team try this?

Technically, LeBron can still opt out of his Lakers deal for next year and become a free agent. If you take Bronny, could you get LeBron, too? Probably not, but maybe it’s worth a try for some franchise.

The NBA will be quick to remind that lots of great players come from the second round. Basketball is a developmental game, after all, and there are plenty of examples of second-round guys, undrafted guys, even guys bouncing through Europe and the G League eventually finding a role.

Three-time MVP Nikola Jokić went 41st overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Of course, that was so anticpated that the pick was announced while the broadcast was showing a Taco Bell commercial.

Whatever happens to Bronny James will for sure be better TV than that.