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Toppin and Poppin’: The Bronny James question

Would you?

Syndication: The News-Leader Andrew Jansen/News-Leader / USA TODAY NETWORK

On Wednesday, Jayson Buford and Abe Beame talked about the Knicks and a wild hypothetical scenario:

Abe:

Jayson, it’s a bright, clear Wednesday afternoon here in New York City and spring appears to be upon us. Last night, our fearless leader ate complete and total shit on national television, bowing to the forces that have been nipping at his heels, eager to supplant him this entire term, and shaking what little faith even his most ardent supporters have left in him and his team. But enough about Joe Biden, let’s discuss Los Angeles Lakers/NBA Godhead LeBron James, who made waves over the All-Star break when he said he will eventually play basketball with his son, Bronny, no matter where he lands. We Knicks fans have made getting edged by LeBron a tradition for three micro generations spanning LeBron’s incredible 20-year career. We upend our lives every few years for him, only to be stilted when it’s time to make his decision and break our collective hearts. Before we get too in-depth, let’s just start with a simple question: In 2024, would you draft Bronny for no reason besides getting a final ride with the greatest player who ever lived?

Jay:

I’ll never forget the summer of 2010. LeBron was photographed in a Yankee hat for the most of the summer, was going to Yankee games, and continued to say that Madison Square Garden was a special place throughout the heat of June. Kobe and the Lakers had just beaten the Celtics in a hard fought seven game series but the talk of the league was where LeBron was going to end up. He, played with Knicks fans as long as he could, and instead, went to the hated Miami Hea. Cavs fans think that they were shafted? We were played around with. Even now, when he continues to say how loud Knicks fans always are and how MSG is the Mecca, I can’t help but think LeBron knows what he is doing. The buck stops here. I don’t care to draft Bronny in hopes that he’ll come here. If we did that, LeBron would walk back his statements and then try to get Bronny to the Lakers with him. Also, who knows what LeBron’s game is like then?

Abe:

Alright, that’s a good starting point, so let’s look at LeBron. From afar, he’s right there, statistically, with some of his best seasons, averaging nearly 29, 8 and 6.3, which besides assists are above his career average. He’s given us no indication that physically, in two years, he’d be any worse for wear. He has a season left after this one on his contract, and I can’t imagine he wouldn’t sign a one year deal in 2023 to set himself up for 2024, though some have speculated that when he said he’s finishing his career with Bronny it didn’t mean Bronny’s rookie year, and was classic LeBron mealy-mouthed semantics. There’s this whole side conspiracy that he’s going to be heavily involved in the coming Vegas expansion team, it would be easy to get into the weeds on the what ifs and maybes and second shooters, let’s focus on the court.

Despite his numbers holding steady, something feels different about the last few weeks. This Lakers squad might be one of, if not the worst teams he’s ever played with, especially when AD is off the court. But moments like last night against Dallas in the Crypt, I can’t believe they lost that game. I wonder if we’re getting to the point where LeBron could use his physical gifts and intelligence to will his way to the box scores we’ve come accustomed to, without that extra sensory superpower to will a win down the stretch of even middling regular season games. And yes, this could be a first indication of decline that has yet to really manifest itself in stats but is coming two years from now. What do you make of LeBron as a player today?

Jay:

He’s still exceptionally great. There was a game shortly before the All-Star Break that they were struggling at and he just turned on the LeBron Vision and the superhuman ability that he has been blessed with and led the Lakers to victory. His first step is not as quick, and his durability isn’t quite the same as he was with the Cavs or with Miami. He isn’t the guy who took a Cavs team that had Kevin Love as his second best player to the title and put up 51 against the Warriors in the first game. He’s more of a floor general in the classical term, directing the pace of the game and playing basketball like an auteur. He’s no longer the best player in the world. I’d say Giannis, Embiid, and Jokic have officially passed him. So far. But he’s still great and can turn it on whenever. LeBron’s whole thing is pounding you into submission; when his brute struggle, genius intellect, and ballet-like finesse combine to completely take over the game. He still has that package, but it’s not as defined. He’s officially human. Injuries take him a bit longer to get over, the type of aches and nicks that would happen to someone like Dwyane Wade, are now things that happen to LeBron.

If I am the Knicks, I’d be careful to attach myself to LeBron in 2024. Who knows how good Bronny is? He isn’t the phenom that his Dad was. He seems to be a fine player that will go to college and have a career there. However, nothing from what I have seen, suggests that he is this Zion Williamson-like blue chip prospect. Respectfully to the James family, this seems far-fetched. What do you make of LeBron James Jr, aka “Bronny” as an idea in the future?

Abe:

So yes, of course, he’s not a lottery pick. I’ve been uncomfortable with how we think and talk about players that aren’t even seniors in high school since before Lenny Cooke, so the conversation around a junior in high school right now kind of sucks, but LeBron basically invited it when he said what he said, so let’s at least do our diligence here. I don’t even watch college ball, let alone high school, but based on everything I’ve read, Bronny is projected somewhere between 30-50s as a prospect in his class. He’s an undersized shooting guard. I think a lot can change. He can grow, for instance, as Giannis did after he was drafted at 19, and Giannis is a great example of how you never know what a player is going to become, regardless of scout consensus, as he enters a draft. This is particularly true of a kid who grew up in his dad’s house, with access to his dad’s regiment, his approach to the game, his once in a century on court IQ. I think evaluating this kid now as a finished product is a fool’s errand.

But this is the point of the exercise: let’s say everything remains static, and going into 2024 (by the way, whatever happened to the double draft of 2023 and removing the college mandate?) Bronny is a deep first round/early second round prospect? Say the Knicks, either, I pray, through a strong record or a trade for Julius Randle with a good team lands us with a pick in the 20s, or even early second round, like this upcoming Mavs pick, do you reach for Bronny above his conventional wisdom value based on the flimsy promise that you land LeBron? Mark Cuban has come out and said he wouldn’t burn a second round pick on Bronny, which is really saying something if you look at the last ten years of mostly horrible Mavs draft picks. And scouts think, again, at the moment, there’s no way he’s a one year college player if his name is Bronny Smith, or something. Silver is awaiting a call from the Knicks with the, let’s say 23rd pick, what’s the call from Jayson Buford’s war room?

Jay:

I doubt he spends one year in college. This conversation is so tough to have, because essentially, a lot of this is about parenting. Will the family say “Bronny, you need to stay and better your game in college if you want to be a good NBA player or will they get tired of the oppressive NCAA and try for the league after one year?” (G League is also a compelling route. Bronny could start there and skip college altogether. He’d get some pay instead of being a slave of the NCAA). I think it’s a mistake if Bronny isn’t allowed a few years to get better and see where he is at. Placing a pressure, or a bounty, on his ability mixed with the gravity that LeBron Senior holds over his professional league doesn’t seem appropriate for this kid’s skills. I don’t know Bronny more than his Dad does. In fact, I don’t know him at all. But it struck a nerve with me. So much so that I’d avoid this all together. I don’t think I’d draft Bronny. I think I draft the best player available instead, whoever that is.

Abe:

Yeah. It’s interesting because his dad never went to college, because he didn’t have to, because he was drafted before the owners put in place an unconstitutional restriction barring laborers from getting paid for their talent. I think, with all due respect to the G League and the few hundred thousand the kid whose family will be rich for, I don’t know how many generations to put on it, let’s just assume the James family will be rich forever and become one of the oligarch families in the country as it sinks into the ocean, but I’d love to see him go to Howard or Norfolk State or something as a nod to uncle Chris for a year. But our job in this absurd and theoretical exercise isn’t to parent Bronny, it’s to draft for a team we write about on a blog a few times a week, so.

The counter to this argument would be the Knicks success in recent drafts. Would I want what could end up being a 12th man over a Quentin Grimes or Jericho Sims for the chance to get the last gas in LeBron’s tank? Obviously not. And I want to say, “Well let’s look at the board and see where we’re at in 2024”, but the thing is, no one else had the value properly assessed on Grimes or Sims so I guess you can throw that out as well. I think, even though it’s a bit of a cop out, we just have to wait and see, scout Bronny for his value, perhaps with the weight of a few draft spots as a kind of LeBron, finger on the scale tax, and if it makes sense where we’re drafting, yeah, go for it. If our prospects haven’t improved significantly in 2024, would I enjoy the side show of old man LeBron coming to New York at last? Who wouldn’t? Would I trade that for the chance to see what Quentin Grimes becomes in the next few years? Nah.

Jay:

You never know, maybe Quentin Grimes is an All Star along with RJ Barrett and it inspires LeBron to come here with no strings attached, the Moses Malone piece to the rising Knicks team. *Oh wait, that was a dream* Never mind, I just woke up from a nap.