For Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, the NBA All-Star draft wasn’t mainly about having fun. It was about business. It only took a few picks by James for everyone watching to figure out his not-so-subtle strategy.
With James’ first pick, he selected Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant. That pick didn’t raise too many eyebrows, as Durant was a fine selection in that spot. With his second pick, however, people started to notice a trend as James selected Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving.
By James’ third pick — Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard — it was totally confirmed: James was clearly targeting soon-to-be free agents.
A look at his entire team seems to confirm that was the case.
bahahaha . everyone on the top of that list except Harden gonna be a free agent
look at that smile he know EXACTLY what he doing. pic.twitter.com/6fAHmWXqIw
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) February 8, 2019
James’ first three picks are players who are expected to hit the market at the end of the season. The 34-year-old James may have tried to throw people off with the James Harden choice. He passed on Kemba Walker, who is also set to hit the market.
In the reserve round, James employed the same strategy. He kicked things off by snagging New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis. While Davis won’t be a free agent this offseason, James has made it pretty obvious he wants to play with Davis in the future. The Lakers and Pelicans failed to reach an agreement on a Davis trade before the trade deadline Thursday, so James will have to settle for being teammates with Davis in the All-Star game.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the other All-Star game captain, quipped, “Isn’t that tampering?” after James snagged Davis with his first pick in the reserve portion of the draft.
With his next pick, James grabbed Klay Thompson, who you’ll be shocked to learn is also set to be a free agent. Many expect Thompson to re-sign with the Warriors, but that didn’t stop James from bringing Thompson aboard.
When both teams were finalized, TNT analyst Charles Barkley couldn’t keep quiet about James’ picks. He told Antetokounmpo to offer everyone on his bench in exchange for Davis. That seemed to be a reference to all the players the Lakers reportedly included in offers for Davis. James laughed off that suggestion from Barkley.
NBA fans didn’t have any trouble wising up to James’ strategy either. Seconds after the NBA All-Star draft was completed, there were already plenty of people on Twitter referring to James’ team as “Team Tampering.”
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