Why drafting Bronny James could pay off for Thunder

Why drafting Bronny James could pay off for Thunder

The Thunder has an abundance of draft picks over the next few years. So why not take a flier on Bronny James, when he’s draft-eligible, in case it could lure LeBron to town to play out his twilight years?

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Dec 23, 2023, 6:00am CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Dec 23, 2023, 6:00am CST

(A version of this story originally appeared in Berry Tramel’s newsletter, deliverable to your inbox twice a week. Sign up here.)

The Thunder, as you know, has more future draft picks than Imelda Marcos has shoes. She couldn’t possibly have worn them all, if you get my drift.

So we await Sam Presti shipping the draft picks in some blockbuster to fortify the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander/Chet Holmgren/Santa Clara Williams foundation.

But I’d counsel Presti to hang on to a pick or two in 2024 or 2025. I’d save it to draft Bronny James.

The Lakers are in town Saturday night, which means LeBron James is in town. I assume he’ll play; the Lakers played in Minneapolis on Thursday night, so no back-to-back. That matters for a guy who turns 39 next week.

It’s been a treat for Oklahomans to follow LeBron’s career. He debuted in October 2003; the NBA’s OKC debut came in October 2005. So we’ve sort of grown up together.

While savoring the blessing of getting to watch one of the greatest players of all time, Oklahomans ask the normal questions. How much longer will LeBron play? How much longer will LeBron play at an all-NBA level, which he has through a third of the 2023-24 season?

But my mind drifts to other LeBron outlets. Like this. He sure would look good in Thunder blue or Thunder orange or Thunder alternates. Especially on this team, which is young and talented on a steep incline toward the NBA mountaintop.

And Bronny might be the ticket to get LeBron OKC.

Bronny James is a 6-foot-4 Southern Cal wing who has played just three games, after a scary cardiac arrest (is there any other kind?) in July. Bronny was a four-star recruit out of high school and many projected him to declare for the NBA Draft in 2024, to accelerate the chance to play in the NBA with his famous father.

I don’t know how Bronny’s medical situation or slow start at USC (5.0 points and 16.0 minutes per game) has affected those plans. I don’t know what kind of pro prospect he was before or after the heart condition was detected.

But the Thunder should be prepared to draft him whenever he comes out. Because it might just land LeBron.

If LeBron wants to play with Bronny in the NBA, the accepted path would be for the Lakers to make a trade with whoever selects Bronny. That’s NBA magna carta. Whoever the Lakers want, they generally get.

Getting LeBron to stay motivated into his 40s won’t be easy, but playing with his son would do it.

But the Thunder (and a few other teams) are in a position to play a higher game of poker. Draft Bronny, not with the intention of trading him to the Lakers, but with the intention of luring LeBron to OKC.

Basically, LeBron has taken to signing a series of one-year contracts, which makes him a virtual annual free agent.

He shows no signs of wanting to leave Los Angeles. But if the Thunder drafted Bronny, they could play hardball. Time would be on OKC’s side. And all without the pressure of the Thunder needing that draft pick to help the current roster.

The Thunder has been crazily built. A batch of young players ranging from good to great, plus a motherlode of draft picks on the way. Take a flier on a 7-foot-5 Belgian nobody’s ever heard of? Pick a teen-age Angolan who can swish 3-pointers with either hand? Add Bronny James? 

All no risk. The Thunder roster has few holes, and draft picks aren’t likely to fill the voids that do exist. Some of these future draft picks would be more curse than blessing, because there’s no place to put them, especially those outside the top 10.

So draft Bronny James, invite LeBron to town, put them together on a roster that would be a title contender and let them make history. 

If LeBron says no, you develop Bronny the way you would any other player, and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. The back of the Thunder roster is loaded with guys picked between 10 and 20, who might make it and might not. Ousmane Dieng (11th), Aleksej Pokusevski (17th), Tre Mann (18th).

But the reward of a season or two of LeBron is too succulent to pass up. LeBron no longer would be in his prime, but who cares? Instead of the NBA’s best, or eighth-best, or 15th-best player, the Thunder might get the NBA’s 35th-best player.

The 35th-best player in the NBA helps you win and helps you win big.

So my suggestion for 2024 or 2025 is simple. Draft Bronny James.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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