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The biggest NBA draft intrigue will be Bronny's destination

Jeff Haynes / NBA / Getty Images

Back when the Toronto Raptors used to meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs every spring, then-coach Dwane Casey spoke about LeBron James with a mixture of reverence and frustration.

It was understandable. James would metaphorically sit on the Raptors' chest and make them punch themselves in the face. But Casey didn't fear LeBron's athleticism or shooting or defense. He always talked about his brain. It was like a computer, he'd say, immediately diagnosing the most dangerous response to whatever scheme you threw at him. He was like one of those malevolent computers in a dystopian film that always knows what the protagonists will do before even they do.

It's fair to wonder whether that part of James' game, that rare basketball IQ, can be passed on to his son, 19-year-old Bronny James, and it might explain why the younger James entered the NBA draft process in hopes of making the league after just one shortened, middling college season. Perhaps some team will select him hoping he's a basketball savant like his father. Maybe they will draft him in hopes of getting his actual father.

It's a curious subplot to this draft, a dash of nepotism that could reshape the power balance of the NBA.

The most obvious point about Bronny James is that he would be nowhere near the NBA draft if his name was Bronny Johnson. A good-but-not-great prospect coming out of his Los Angeles high school last year, he missed time before beginning his freshman season at USC while recovering from a heart condition. Once on the court, he didn't exactly take the Pac-12 by storm. James averaged 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists over 25 games. He also shot 37% from the field and 27% from 3-point range. More telling, he made just six starts on a USC team that was ranked 21st in the country in preseason polls but went 15-18 and finished ninth in the conference.

At the NBA Draft Combine this week, he measured just under 6-foot-2 - probably too small to be a combo guard at the next level.

The scouting report, then, would read something like: Can't shoot, undersized, couldn't maintain starting role on weak team. But has super famous dad.

None of this suggests an NBA-ready player, or even someone ready to take on a development process while on an NBA roster. Zach Edey, the hulking Canadian center, was the NCAA Player of the Year in 2023 and went back to Purdue for more seasoning and to improve his draft stock.

Regarding the possibility of the LeBron-Bronny package, Bronny dismissed such talk at the combine, saying he couldn't imagine a team would draft him on the expectation of then landing the league's all-time leading scorer, who can become a free agent this summer.

"If I get drafted it will be because of not only the player but also the person I am," Bronny said.

Jeff Haynes / NBA / Getty Images

That's probably the correct thing to say at this point in the process, but the reason the possibility of the father-son combo is out there is because Papa James has been enthusiastic about it in the past.

"My last year will be played with my son," LeBron said in 2022. This was at the All-Star Game, where such comments get maximum attention. "Wherever Bronny is at, that's where I'll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year."

It's sweet, this idea, but also a little crazy. Barring a miraculous leap forward in the next few months, Bronny wouldn't get on an NBA court next year unless it was at the end of a 30-point blowout. Would LeBron's dream be satisfied by playing with his son in garbage time? Or in an NBA practice?

The elder James has since walked back those 2022 comments, saying his son would have to follow his own path, but there have to be more than a few NBA teams wondering if the "whatever it takes" line still holds. This is a weak draft class, the weakest in at least a couple of decades by some accounts. Would a flier on Bronny carry that much risk if it meant the possibility of luring his father?

James Senior, at 39 years old last season, played 71 games, shot better than his career averages, and was sixth in the NBA in player efficiency rating - all of which is insane and underscores that LeBron, in his dotage, would not just be an asset for his veteran smarts and iconic presence. The guy is still incredibly useful, and if he were willing to take a salary haircut to facilitate playing - or at least practicing - alongside his son, his value would be that much greater. He would make a playoff team a potential conference finalist, especially in the East.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, to pick one team, could probably spare an end-of-the-bench spot if it meant bringing back the King for one last ride.

Whether this would be a good idea for Bronny is another question entirely. He wouldn't be able to develop away from the spotlight if he was on the same NBA team as his father, and the temptation to throw him out there, even if just to keep Dad happy, would be great.

The smart move would be to go back to school, maybe a different school, or another pro league for further seasoning. But this is LeBron James, who once forced a trade for a fading Russell Westbrook. He's been known to advocate for dumb moves before.

Scott Stinson is a contributing writer for theScore.

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