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Why Bronny James’ success with the Lakers could depend on LeBron getting out of the way


Why Bronny James’ success with the Lakers could depend on LeBron getting out of the way

The inevitable happened on Thursday when Klutch Sports’ machinations and demands ensured Bronny James ended up being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. Now the impossible will have to occur for him to succeed there.

That LeBron James’ son and namesake would end up in L.A. was always the plan. Former Golden State Warriors President of Basketball Operations Bob Myers said the quiet part out loud on Thursday on ESPN’s draft coverage, sharing that “Rich Paul is calling teams … he’s telling them, do not take (Bronny). If you take him, he’s going to Australia.”

That warning was also surely a threat. Sure, the message went, you wouldn’t get Bronny anyway. But it was also clearly a way to say, without saying it, that drafting Bronny James would make you persona non grata with Klutch Sports, a headache no organization or ambitious GM needs.

Nothing better sums up the lengths LeBron James has gone to in order to ensure Bronny would be a Laker. Bronny’s story — his near-death experience, his famous name, the fact he wouldn’t have been drafted if it weren’t for his father, and the upside he still has as a player — was always going to include an early chapter about playing with his dad in L.A.

LeBron Sr. is opting out of the final year of his Lakers contract but is expected to sign a new deal and stay in L.A. He wouldn’t have it any other way, which was the inevitable part of this saga. 

It’s the near-impossible part — the next step — that will matter most going forward and largely shape Bronny’s odds of succeeding, long though they may already be.

Because for his son to succeed, LeBron James will have to do what for him will be the most difficult and rare of things during his sparkling career: Cede the power he’s accumulated and let others take it from here.

He has to fight the urge to interfere with his son’s time as a Laker.

That means operating in the exact opposite way to what got Bronny to the Lakers in the first place.

The Bronny reality is a complicated one. On the one hand, he clearly is not NBA ready, a fact several NBA executives and scouts who had evaluated Bronny during his subpar season at USC and at the draft combine in Chicago last month told CBS Sports.

But it’s also true that Bronny would have probably earned his spot as a true prospect had he gone to college for one or two more years and further developed his game, as most believe it would have been inevitable had his last name not been James.

That means there’s an NBA player potentially in there but one who, by most accounts, needs more time, patience and the chance to learn and fail with smaller stakes than the NBA usually provides. And that is much more likely to happen if he isn’t bird-dogged at every turn by perhaps the biggest name in NBA history.

LeBron constantly weighing in and shaping the way the Lakers want to go about developing their young talent helps no one, no matter his intentions. 

It’s one thing to teach, help and guide your son. It’s another to pull the strings from within his first professional organization, always hovering, never letting him and those around him have the freedom most rookies get to try and make it with all the ups and downs required.

Stepping aside, and not exerting the very power and influence he used to get his son to the Lakers in the first place, will not be easy for LeBron. This is a generational talent who has routinely decided the fates of his coaches, teammates, and GMs. He’s had and used the massive influence and leverage that comes with his GOAT-level status. And it’s mostly served him well.

But sometimes less is more. And that will be the challenge for the father who loves his son and now will need to find a way to get out of the way.

What if Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka thinks Bronny needs ample time in the G League — more, say, than LeBron feels is necessary? 

What if new Lakers Head Coach JJ Redick — formerly LeBron’s podcast partner — isn’t aligned with his benefactor on how many minutes his benefactor’s son should be getting?

What if Bronny’s teammates, including the veterans on the team, start to resent a young player because of his dad?

What happens when opposing teams go at Bronny with vicious enthusiasm, hellbent on getting one over on the kid with LeBron’s name on his back?

What happens when LeBron can’t see these things clearly, and can’t know when to get out of the way?

Seems far-fetched?

Last year, LeBron tweeted, “Man Bronny definitely better than some of these cats I’ve been watching on league pass today. S— lightweight hilarious.” 

This is a guy who handpicked his head coach in anticipation of re-upping with the Lakers in the coming days, who made sure that same team drafted his not-ready-for-the-league-yet son, who made sure his agency and good friend strong armed the rest of the league into not drafting Bronny first, and who has almost always gotten what he wants. 

The line here between combining his love for his son with his all-time great basketball experience as hands-on mentor, and with being the ultimate problematic-helicopter-sports-parent, is thin.

I hope Bronny makes it. And I get how a father’s love for his son is all consuming. But that doesn’t change the fact Bronny’s best shot at succeeding rests in large part with his dad, all evidence to the contrary, giving him and the Lakers the space and permission to try and turn the 55th pick in the 2024 NBA Draft into a success story.

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