July 15, 2024

Why the Lakers set out to make history by drafting Bronny James at No. 55


EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — There aren’t many firsts remaining for a franchise like the Los Angeles Lakers.

But with the opportunity to draft Bronny James with the No. 55 pick in the 2024 NBA Draft and team him with his father, LeBron James, the Lakers couldn’t pass on the chance to make history.

“The biggest moments in sports happen with the Lakers,” Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said Thursday after drafting Bronny. “And that’s how we’re built. And we’re excited to see this story unfold.”

LeBron and Bronny will become the first active father-son duo in NBA history next season. If LeBron, who has a $51.4 million player option that he has to decide on by 5 p.m. ET on Saturday, returns to the Lakers next season, he and Bronny will also become the first father-son duo to be teammates.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Bronny James is now a Laker. Here’s what lies ahead in his NBA career

The Lakers taking Bronny was arguably the least surprising selection of the draft. Bronny, 19, had been linked to the Lakers for years, dating to when his father said that he’d love to play with his eldest son.

“My last year will be played with my son,” James told The Athletic in 2022.

LeBron has since walked back that claim, telling ESPN in January 2023 that he would consider that family goal fulfilled so long as he shared the floor with Bronny “either in the same uniform or a matchup against him.” LeBron’s agent and Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul — who is also Bronny’s agent — recently told ESPN that LeBron and Bronny aren’t a package deal. Still, team sources previously told The Athletic the Lakers wanted to help LeBron fulfill his dream of playing with Bronny.

Coming out of USC as a one-and-done guard, Bronny projected more as a two-way player or Exhibit 10 candidate. He averaged only 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25 games. But with Paul reportedly telling teams that Bronny would only be drafted by a team planning on signing him to a guaranteed contract and with a clear development plan for him, it appears he’ll be signing a guaranteed contract with the Lakers to join the official roster.

ESPN’s Bob Myers reported on air during the draft that Paul was telling potential suitors to not draft Bronny and that if they did, Bronny would go to Australia instead of reporting to that team.

“He has a plan and he has a place,” Myers said of Paul’s handling of Bronny.

Bronny suffered a cardiac arrest last July that led to him having surgery for a congenital heart defect. The traumatic setback caused him to miss nearly five months of basketball. He returned on Dec. 10 and played 25 games for the Trojans. He went through an NBA Fitness-to-Play panel and was cleared to play by the league. Before his health scare, Bronny was a projected first-round pick by ESPN.

Bronny is 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds with a 6-foot-7 wingspan. He projects as a 3-and-D guard. He is an elite athlete — his 40.5-inch vertical was the sixth-best at the combine — with stellar strength, speed and agility. His most NBA-ready skill is his point-of-attack defense, an area where the Lakers have needed help in recent seasons.

“I think he’s going to be a point-of-attack defender that can really be disruptive with the way he guards other teams’ point guards,” Pelinka said. “I think he can guard multiple positions. And we’ve really seen growth in shooting I think at the combine when we were there with the scouting staff. He was one of the leaders in sort of making some of his shots in some of the drills. We really think he can turn into being an elite shotmaker. Just a 3-and-D player, for sure.”

Similar to his father, Bronny has shown flashes of being a good passer, playmaker and high-IQ player. Overall, though, he has yet to display the ballhandling and shot creation necessary to be a point guard or primary ballhandler.

Bronny’s shooting could very well determine his NBA future. He made just 27 percent of his 3s at USC, which is a concerning number. However, he shot 39.1 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s over his senior year of high school and final AAU season. If he replicates that figure, or at least progresses closer to the league average of 35 or 36 percent, he can eventually become a rotation-level bench guard with upside.

The Lakers were also impressed by Bronny’s character and work ethic, which Pelinka cited multiple times. He also shared that he had a one-hour lunch with Bronny at the team’s practice facility after a recent workout.

“I think growing up as he’s grown up, there’s a fishbowl,” Pelinka said. “There’s lots of eyes looking at everything you do. And I think he’s been able to handle all that with an extreme maturity. It’s evident when you spend time with him that he doesn’t let things bother him. He is who he is. He believes in himself.”

“Player development” was the buzzword at head coach JJ Redick’s introductory press conference. Pelinka said he and Redick are already beginning to make plans for Bronny’s development. Redick is still building out his assistant coaching and player development staff.

Drafting Bronny, whom The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie ranked 72nd on his draft board and The Athletic’s John Hollinger ranked 52nd on his board, is the type of star-pleasing move the Lakers have prided themselves on through the years.

It wasn’t without backlash, though, with critics claiming Bronny was only selected by the Lakers because of his father. That is probably true, to some extent. Bronny didn’t have a good freshman year at USC and probably should’ve returned for his sophomore season. Many players with his size concerns and statistical output would go undrafted.

At the same time, most No. 55 picks rarely, if ever, make an NBA roster or play a single second of NBA basketball. Teams take fliers on random players they like that late in the draft all the time. This is no different. Plus, familial relationships and friendships have played roles at the ownership, front office, coaching and player levels of the NBA and the greater sports world (to say nothing of business at large). Just look at the situations surrounding the primary stars for the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks.

Realistically, there is little risk in selecting Bronny at No. 55. There is a scenario in which he regains his shooting stroke, develops into a capable secondary ballhandler, and his defense gets to the level that he’s difficult to keep out of a rotation. But that’s almost certainly unrealistic for this upcoming season — and potentially even the following season, too.

If there is one drawback with the Bronny selection, it’s this: His signing brings the Lakers to 10 guaranteed roster spots, before factoring in the player options of LeBron, D’Angelo Russell, Cam Reddish and Jaxson Hayes. The Lakers could easily have 14 players with guaranteed contracts on their roster before free agency even starts. That will impact their ability to re-sign Max Christie, Taurean Prince and/or Spencer Dinwiddie, as well as add any other players in free agency.

With Bronny unlikely to contribute as a rookie, and plenty of uncertainty with Jalen Hood-Schifino and Maxwell Lewis, the Lakers could have as many as three players on their team that are incapable of playing in the regular season. That’s also before mentioning the potential limitations with Reddish, Christian Wood and even No. 17 pick Dalton Knecht, who projects as a rotation player but is still technically an unproven rookie.

Of course, the most important unknown of the offseason is LeBron’s future. According to The Athletic, the Lakers don’t yet have an indication as to LeBron’s plans this summer regarding his $51.4 million player option. The Lakers, team sources say, are open to discussing any deal that involves James coming back — including even the maximum three-year, $164 million extension they can offer.

Pelinka said LeBron’s future didn’t come up in conversations with Bronny. But it didn’t have to. The Lakers sent a clear message on Thursday, making Bronny’s dreams come true, committing to develop him and offering his dad a once-in-multiple-generations opportunity to play with his son. The Lakers are hoping that offer, plus more money than anyplace else, is too much to pass up.

“We know and have to respect, of course, that LeBron has a decision about his opt-out,” Pelinka said. “And I’m sure he and his family and his agent will deliberate what they’re going to do there. Of course, he has freedom to decide whatever is best for him and his family.

“But if it worked out that he was on our team next season, NBA history could be made. And NBA history should be made in a Lakers uniform.”


(Photo: David Banks / USA Today)



Source