NBA and college basketball analysts weigh in on LeBron’s plans for Bronny James
Everyone in the basketball world is wondering what LeBron James will do next. It’s a very significant question on a lot of levels, as you can appreciate.
Bronny James and his USC career represent one notable part of a much larger picture. There is a lot to sort out and unpack here, so let’s go piece by piece in looking at all the details of a very complicated situation.
You will want to follow our partners at LeBron Wire for more coverage of this multi-pronged situation. Using some of the stories at LeBron Wire as a foundation for our analysis, let’s move forward and discuss the main components of this fascinating basketball journey.
If there is one point of relative clarity here, it’s that LeBron James is not retiring. That seems like a lot of smoke with no fire. LeBron has made no secret of his desire to play with Bronny James in the NBA. The idea that LeBron’s playing career is done seems highly unlikely. It doesn’t seem worth entertaining that scenario as a realistic possibility unless or until LeBron does something to warrant a different level of concern on that front.
LeBron James talked about possibly having surgery on his injured right foot and whether he can play like his old self next season. https://t.co/J7iKHn7luV
— LeBron Wire (@LeBron_Wire) May 24, 2023
Having surgery points to LeBron wanting to get more out of his basketball career, as opposed to wanting to retire.
"We’re incredibly proud of this group … keeping that continuity is going to be very important."
Rob Pelinka: End of Season Interview pic.twitter.com/NwuHhKO6Wz
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) May 23, 2023
LeBron’s statement that “I have a lot to think about” seemed directed at Laker management and Rob Pelinka as much as anyone else. If LeBron wants to squeeze every last ounce of potential from what remains of his playing career, he is intent on making sure the Lakers upgrade their roster to a championship level. They were not particularly close to the standard set by the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals.
TWO YEARS LEFT?
This 247Sports story from Brad Crawford quotes ESPN NBA reporter Brian Windhorst as saying that “The longstanding plan by LeBron and is his team is he’s gonna do two more years.”
If that’s true, Bronny will play only one year at USC, even if it means he won’t be a lottery pick.
BRONNY JAMES NBA DRAFT POSITION
Bronny James’ NBA draft position is not at the lottery-pick level, according to basketball analyst Adam Finkelstein, as quoted in Crawford’s 247Sports story:
“His NBA upside, based solely on his own merit as a prospect, is much less clear,” Finkelstein said. “His NBA projection depends on the extent to which his father ties the end of his career to Bronny’s location. There is very little precedent for a 6-foot-3 combo-guard to be a first-round pick, much less a lottery pick, without being a dynamic playmaker.”
THE EMERGING PLAN
The LeBron plan seems to be this: Play next season with the Lakers while Bronny is nearby at USC. Bronny goes to the NBA after one season, even though he might not be a first-round pick. LeBron then joins the team which picks Bronny James for one season, likely his last as an NBA professional. LeBron would mentor Bronny on that team and give his son the best possible hands-on education before walking away from the game as a player following the 2024-2025 NBA season.
LEBRON CONTRACTUAL SITUATION
LeBron “has a player option for 2024-25 and could play that season for whichever franchise drafts Bronny in the 2024 NBA draft.”
HIGH-STAKES POKER FOR THE LAKERS
If LeBron wants to play with Bronny — regardless of where Bronny is selected in the 2024 NBA draft after one year with USC — that increases the chances next season will be his last with the Lakers. The NBA franchise will need to go all-in on chasing one more championship, something LeBron clearly expects from Pelinka and the front office.
HIGH STAKES FOR THE NBA
If Bronny James is not a lottery pick in terms of talent and overall quality, but picking Bronny means getting one season of LeBron James, NBA teams will probably pick Bronny sooner rather than later at the 2024 draft. This could distort the draft board and the incentives involved. Some wild trades could occur. Will there be a handshake/unwritten deal that one team will pick Bronny (and therefore get LeBron), or will this be a truly open-ended competition? So many questions will flow from this part of the drama if it is indeed how LeBron and his camp want to manage the final season of his playing career.
THE USC ANGLE AND ANDY ENFIELD
If Bronny James is playing only one year at USC, no matter what, the bottom line is that Andy Enfield will face even more pressure to get it right — not just with Bronny, but this team and roster. It would have been great to have Bronny for a second season once Isaiah Collier and Boogie Ellis leave after next season. If Enfield doesn’t get that benefit, it sharpens the focus on this coming season and the need to hit a home run.
THE IMPORTANT REMINDER FOR ENFIELD
Even though he might get Bronny James for only one season, Enfield has to remind himself — and his coaching staff, and Bronny’s USC teammates — that the point of competition is to win and to put players in the best position to succeed. Enfield can’t coach this season to turn Bronny into a lottery pick. Bronny has to earn that with his performance.
Enfield will give Bronny every chance to prove himself, but not at the expense of reducing Isaiah Collier’s or Boogie Ellis’s minutes. Integrating Bronny’s needs with Collier’s needs and Ellis’s needs — all within a context of the team’s best interests — is the true goal for Enfield. Player development feeds into winning. That hasn’t changed, and it never will. Bronny will get more minutes if he plays at an elite level. He will be an important part of the team, but he won’t get more minutes than what he deserves. LeBron and his family know that and respect that.
GREECE AND CROATIA TRIP
This is why USC basketball’s August trip to Greece and Croatia is so great and important. It’s a chance to develop Bronny James’ game and give him exposure to international basketball. It’s also a forum for USC’s roster to learn how to play together and for Enfield to get an early look at how different combinations work in live-game situations. This is what Bronny needs to develop as a player, and this is what the USC roster needs to find the right lineup and rotation for the coming season.
LeBron wants to maximize what is left of his playing career. He wants to maximize the time he has with Bronny while he is still an NBA player. Andy Enfield wants to maximize the one year he is (at this point) likely to get with Bronny at USC, instead of two. Everyone seems to be focused on the present moment and doing the most with the precious gifts of time and resources.