He barely scored in college. Will anyone draft LeBron James’s son?

Southern California's Bronny James brings the ball up the court during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on 13 March 2024. It’s unclear where the son of NBA great LeBron James might land in this month’s NBA draft. (Photo: AP) (AP)
Southern California's Bronny James brings the ball up the court during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on 13 March 2024. It’s unclear where the son of NBA great LeBron James might land in this month’s NBA draft. (Photo: AP) (AP)

Summary

Entering this week’s NBA draft, the most talked-about player is Bronny James. Will his famous father follow to whatever team picks him?

The most famous and talked-about player in this week’s NBA draft won’t be selected with the No. 1 pick. He probably won’t be taken in the top 15, either. In fact, he might not be off the board by the end of the first round on Wednesday night, or even the middle of the second on Thursday afternoon.

Still, the question on everyone’s mind is which of the league’s 30 teams will wind up drafting an undersized guard with little experience, iffy shooting numbers and an uncertain future.

His name? LeBron James Jr.

Bronny James, as he’s known, is more than just a famous name—he has the potential to shake up the entire NBA. Bronny’s father, the 39-year-old four-time MVP LeBron James, has said at various points that it’s his dream to play with his son before he retires from the NBA.

So teams are weighing a move even riskier than putting the hopes of a franchise in the hands of a 19-year-old. They’re deciding whether it’s worth taking a flier on Bronny in the hopes that his famous father comes to town.

“If I were Philly," said ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla, naming one team, the 76ers, rumored to have interest in James Jr., “if I knew I had a chance to get LeBron, it’d be a no-brainer."

Bronny arrived at USC last summer fresh off of a McDonald’s All-American appearance and amid a whirlwind of expectation. But his season quickly went sideways. First, at a July workout, he suffered cardiac arrest. Then, when he returned to the Trojans’ active roster in January, he fell short of the on-court expectations that had followed him to school.

Over his freshman season, Bronny started just six games, averaging fewer than five points on less than 40% shooting. “In a normal draft, with a normal name," Fraschilla said, “he would not be in the top 60."

But LeBron James’s stated wish to play with his son—which he has alternately reiterated and backed away from—has made Bronny the draft’s biggest enigma. Is there an implicit requirement for the Los Angeles Lakers, who hold the 17th and 55th picks, to select Bronny in order to keep LeBron, who can opt out of his contract with the team this summer? Are rivals maneuvering to select Bronny early to woo the greatest player of his generation to their city?

Making matters murkier is the fact that Klutch Sports, the agency founded by LeBron’s close friend Rich Paul, has limited Bronny’s workout appearances to a select few teams, signaling a possible desire to orchestrate a particular landing spot.

“This is nothing new," Paul told ESPN last week. “The goal is to find a team that values your guy and try to push him to get there."

Bronny is not without qualifications, though he seems more suited to eventual off-the-bench duties than potential stardom. He is an aggressive and mindful defender, well-schooled in reading the fast patterns of a game. Despite his poor percentage at USC, he has shown himself capable of knocking down open shots. In one contest at the NBA draft combine last month, he made 19 of 25 3-pointers, finishing in second place.

“I want him to kind of figure it out on his own," told J.J. Redick on their “Mind the Game" podcast last month. “Where he sees himself fit in the NBA."

Paul has rebuffed the notion that LeBron might play for a minimum contract—but it remains to be seen whether a team with Bronny could entice him to take less than the $51 million he’d receive from the Lakers if he opts to stay for an additional year. Guessing at the plans and motivations of LeBron James is something of an offseason tradition in the NBA, and this summer is no exception.

Those expecting him to stay in Los Angeles can point to the Lakers’ recent hire of Redick to be their head coach. James and Redick have spent the past several months recording their podcast together, and they clearly share an affinity and perspective on the nuances of basketball.

But postseason success has lately eluded the Lakers, even as James has put up historic numbers for a player of his age. The team struggled just to reach the playoffs in 2024, emerging from the play-in tournament, and won just a single game in their opening-round loss to the Denver Nuggets.

L.A.’s recent inability to compete for a championship, in the twilight of James’s career, has spurred speculation that he might look to join his fourth franchise. The availability of Bronny in the draft, meanwhile, suggests a tidy scenario. A team likewise hoping for a chance at a title picks him, and then places a call to his dad.

Write to Robert O’Connell at robert.oconnell@wsj.com

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