LeBron James might just have pulled the greatest heist in NBA All-Star Draft history during Thursday’s first rendition of its broadcast, putting on a clinic in true Fantasy Basketball fashion while managing to toe the line between friendly competition and elite-level tampering.
The King’s picks for this 2019 iteration of the February festivities are so regal, that they immediately put his All-Star rival, Giannis Antetokounmpo, to shame and scrutiny through social media — as millions of fans laughed at his poor ability to construct a team with such high-level talent.
James meanwhile, put together not only a coalition of the best talent available to him, but also set himself up for friendly pleasantries with players he soon may end up calling come July 1.
Looking at LeBron’s selections pick-by-pick:
1. Team LeBron: Kevin Durant — Golden State Warriors
2. Team Giannis: Stephen Curry — Golden State Warriors
3. Team LeBron: Kyrie Irving — Boston Celtics
4. Team Giannis: Joel Embiid — Philadelphia 76ers
5. Team LeBron: Kawhi Leonard — Toronto Raptors
6. Team Giannis: Paul George — Oklahoma City Thunder
7. Team LeBron: James Harden — Houston Rockets
8. Team Giannis: Kemba Walker — Charlotte Hornets
9. Team Giannis: Khris Middleton — Milwaukee Bucks
10. Team LeBron: Anthony Davis — New Orleans Hornets
11. Team Giannis: Nikola Jokic — Denver Nuggets
12. Team LeBron: Klay Thompson — Golden State Warriors
13. Team Giannis: Ben Simmons* — Philadelphia 76ers
14. Team LeBron: Damian Lillard — Portland Trail Blazers
15. Team Giannis: Blake Griffin — Detroit Pistons
16. Team LeBron: Russell Westbrook* — Oklahoma City Thunder
17. Team Giannis: D’Angelo Russell — Brooklyn Nets
18. Team LeBron: LaMarcus Aldridge — San Antonio Spurs
19. Team Giannis: Nikola Vucevic — Orlando Magic
20. Team LeBron: Karl-Anthony Towns — Minnesota Timberwolves
21. Team Giannis: Kyle Lowry — Toronto Raptors
22. Team LeBron: Bradley Beal — Washington Wizards
*LeBron James asked to trade for his longtime pupil and Klutch Sports fellow client Ben Simmons, giving Giannis Antetokounmpo point guard Russell Westbrook in return.
23. Team LeBron: Dwyane Wade — Miami Heat
24. Team Giannis: Dirk Nowitzki — Dallas Mavericks
Taking advantage of a first-time captain
With his first six picks, LeBron James had already done his bidding — constructing a star-studded team with overwhelming offensive skill and defense, all while taking four players off the list that could wind up as potential free agent targets for his Los Angeles Lakers.
Let’s examine these contractual situations closer.
- 1st pick: Kevin Durant (likely to opt out of contract by end of the season)
- 2nd pick: Kyrie Irving (likely to opt out of contract by end of the season)
- 3rd pick: Kawhi Leonard (likely to opt out of contract by end of the season)
- 4th pick: James Harden (under contract until 2022, has player-option for 2022-23 season)
- 5h pick: Anthony Davis (under contract until 2020, targeted by Lakers on trade deadline)
- 6th pick: Klay Thompson (unrestricted free agent by end of the season)
This is no coincidence, but rather a skilled veteran showing a rookie general manager how it’s done.
It only took James six picks to set himself to cruise past Antetokounmpo’s team come Feb. 17, and to give himself the opportunity to keep extra busy and do some recruiting at the All-Star Game.
The Greek Freak called LeBron James out jokingly, but was he right?
Giannis Antetokounmpo showed his child-like, fun-loving spirit and tossed around the word “tampering” after James picked Anthony Davis first among reserves.
Antetokounmpo: “Isn’t that tampering?”
Inside The NBA host Ernie Johnson: “Shots fired!”
James: “Tampering rules don’t apply on All-Star Weekend.”
"Isn't that tampering?" 😂
LeBron drafts AD! #NBAAllStarDraft pic.twitter.com/nEA08k1WC8
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 8, 2019
Maybe they should apply?…
James managed to methodically line out five players that the Lakers could make a run for in the offseason, as Durant, Thompson, Leonard and Irving all are expected to become free agents come July 1 and are players the Lakers could look to secure a meeting with by the start of free agency.
Davis will be the subject of a sweepstakes in which the Lakers will make sure to come calling.
The All-Star Game has become the new Team USA
While USA Basketball had been the mother of the modern era of superteams, the new rules that now put the FIBA schedule conflicting with the NBA’s start of training camp has led to players only making appearances for the national team during international competition and the Olympics, leaving qualifiers out of the picture.
Yet that hasn’t hindered players like James seeking out opportunities to befriend free agent targets in public settings like the All-Star Game.
Let’s remember, players on Team LeBron will travel together, pose for photos, dine and practice together before taking the floor on Feb. 17, giving James ample time to pitch them into a future together with the Lakers.
Davis, for one, perhaps needs no more enticement than James’ public acknowledgement of his fondness, and now being picked with his first selection of the reserves.
Thompson has remained committed to the Golden State Warriors, but if the team chooses to seek out a bargain deal, it might just upset the sharpshooter enough to seek a more succulent offer in his hometown of Los Angeles.
Irving has been rumored to potentially consider a reunion with James if things with the Celtics go haywire, by either falling short of expectations in the postseason or failing to attract the right talent to play in Bean Town.
The Lakers will also make a poke at Kawhi Leonard, whom they chased and lusted for even before James signed a four-year, $154 million deal with the team. Having him in the same team in this All-Star Game will help get the two acquainted.
Kevin Durant is the toughest nut to crack here, and while a partnership with James has swung the rumor mill ages ago — it’s likely the reigning two-time Finals MVP will look elsewhere to solidify himself as the most dominant player in the game.
. . .
If there is a master class in subtle tampering, James might just have written the supreme thesis on how to do so. Absolved from any criticism from the league office as the NBA’s iconic player and doing so ever-so-delicately under the current rules in place.
The King has toed the line as gracefully as a 6-foot-8 ballerina could and made every All-Star pick count, while Antetokounmpo went with the sentimental picks of Khris Middleton, Nikola Jokic and Ben Simmons, whom he ultimately gave back in a last-minute trade with James.
If any of the aforementioned stars wind up on the Lakers by next season, rest assured this All-Star Draft had plenty to do with it.