With LeBron James Jr. Nearly Grown, Could Dad’s Preposterous NBA Dream Become Reality?

LeBron James jr, the last goal in the NBA could be to keep playing long enough to play with his oldest son. But is Bronny James a real NBA prospect, and what would it take for the Lakers to put father and son on the same team?

At this time of year, basketball fans’ Twitter feeds are filled with grainy videos of teenagers playing basketball, like young Sasquatches shooting hoops. And since Zion Williamson, one teen with a well-known name has been the subject of more grainy videos than anyone else: LeBron James Jr., whose nickname is Bronny:

Bronny, 17 years old, has been playing with Strive for Greatness, an AAU team whose name comes from his father’s charity work. Last week, he played at Nike’s Peach Jam event in Georgia. Tonight, he’ll play at the Las Vegas Big Time Finale, which includes a game on ESPN. (Not ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN+, or the Ocho.) He will go to Europe next week for a three-country tour against top players worldwide.

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As the son of the most talked-about player of the 21st century, Bronny has been in the spotlight ever since he learned to dribble. When Bronny was 10, his dad said college coaches were already trying to get him to play for them. This may have been an elaborate way to brag about how good Bronny was. When Bronny was 12, people liked to watch him dunk on 7-foot rims in their driveways. When he was a freshman in high school in 2019, The Washington Post called him “high school basketball’s biggest draw.” When he moved to a prestigious prep school in Los Angeles called Sierra Canyon, he joined an NBA son superteam with Kenyon Martin Jr., Scotty Pippen Jr., and Zaire Wade. Even though Martin, Pippen, Ziaire Williams, and Brandon Boston, all of whom went to Sierra Canyon High School, are now in the NBA, Bronny’s name made the news.

Maybe that was because the hype was based on the idea that LeBron  James jr. and Bronny would play together in the NBA one day. It’s not just a theory; LeBron James has spread the idea himself. So far as I can tell, LeBron James jr. said for the first time in public in 2018 that he wanted to play with his son Bronny one day. At the time, Bronny was still in middle school. Since then, he has talked about it a lot. In February, he said that his plan is to play one season with Bronny and then retire.

The NBA is a league of sons even more than other professional sports. The league has always had second-generation players, like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Love, Brent Barry, and Bol Bol. I counted that at least 29 of the 605 NBA players who played last season had fathers who played in the league. That’s almost 5 percent, which is a ridiculously high number and enough to fill two teams’ rosters. (We can even count JaVale McGee, whose mother Pamela played in the WNBA, to make the number of second-generation players equal 30.) The Warriors just won the NBA Finals. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Gary Payton II are all NBA kids who play for the Warriors. DJ Wagner and Cameron Boozer, the best players in the classes of 2023 and 2025, respectively, are the sons of two of LeBron’s former Cleveland teammates, Dajuan Wagner and Carlos Boozer. This trend is likely to continue. Milt, Dajuan’s dad, was also an NBA player, so the Wagners would be the first family to have three generations in the league. It turns out that future NBA players benefit a lot from being tall, having access to top-notch training and coaches, and, of course, having NBA money.

But a father and son have never played together on the court. Doc and Austin Rivers were coached by their father, but Doc traded Austin away in the end. (He also coached Dell Curry’s son and Steph Curry’s brother, Seth Curry. My point is that there are a lot of family ties in the NBA. In MLB, fathers and sons play together. In 1990, Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. hit home runs right after each other. But it didn’t seem possible in basketball because baseball players can play for much longer than hoopers. For LeBron James jr. to play with his oldest child, he would have to play at least until he is 40 years old in 2024-25, which would be his 22nd season and tie Vince Carter for the all-time NBA record. When he said he’d play with his son, it sounded like another one of LeBron’s crazy promises that may or may not ever come true. (Let’s not forget that he didn’t win one, two, three, four, or even five of the seven titles he planned to win with the Heat.)

But maybe it’s not so crazy after all. Bronny is almost an adult and about to start his senior year of high school, while LeBron has hardly changed. It’s time to start wondering if LeBron’s dream of becoming a father is more likely.

Let’s look at the big questions to figure out how to answer them.

Will LeBron Be In The NBA Long Enough To Play With Bronny?

We live in an age when athletes like Tom Brady, who is 45, and Rafael Nadal, who is 35, can still do well. Old King LeBron is one of them for sure. LeBron James jr. averaged over 30 points per game last season, which is by far the most points ever scored by a player his age in the history of the NBA. (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was 38 years old in 1985–86 and averaged 23.4 points per game, is second.) LeBron finished fourth in PER, and he would have been second in points per game, tied for 16th in assists per game, and 28th in rebounds per game if he had played enough games.

But in his four years with the Lakers, LeBron James Jr. has had two things happen that didn’t happen in his first 15 years in the league: he’s been hurt, and the Lakers have lost. LeBron James jr was seldom hurt for most of his career, but in his four seasons with the Lakers, he has missed 80 games because of injuries. In his 15 seasons with the Cavs and Heat, he missed 71 games. And the Lakers haven’t made the playoffs twice in the last four years, even though LeBron’s teams did so for 13 straight years, from 2006 to 2018. You may have heard things aren’t going well with the Lakers.

There are a few minor signs that LeBron isn’t as fast as he used to be. But if LeBron wants to keep playing until 2025 so he can play with Bronny, he should be able to do it.

Is Bronny An NBA-level player?

This is less likely to happen. Even though Bronny has a chance of making it to the NBA, it’s probably not fair to keep calling him a superstar. He isn’t a unique physical specimen like his dad, nor is he a scorer who dominates the ball.

As a 6-foot-2 sophomore in 2020, Bronny was ranked 19th in the country when he first appeared on the 247Sports composite rankings. He is now ranked 43rd. That’s not because he’s gotten worse as a player—recently, he’s been praised for his offensive growth and confidence.

Bronny is now 6 feet 3 inches tall, only an inch more than he was two years ago. His early growth helped get him a lot of attention, but now other players are taller than him, which may explain why Bronny’s stock has fallen. None of the top 28 picks in the NBA draught in June were shorter than 6 feet, 3 inches. Bronny’s height would be less of a problem if he were a great scorer or playmaker, but he usually gives way to his teammates on teams with many stars. Most scouting reports on Bronny say he could be a role player in the NBA. He is a good passer and shooter with a high basketball IQ who does well on defense. But it’s hard for a 6-foot-3 wing which is good at defense to make it in the league.

Even if you’re ranked 43rd in the country, you’re still pretty good. And people from that range do make it to the NBA. From 2016 to 2020, 10 of the 50 players who were ranked 40th to 49th have been drafted, including first-rounders like Moses Moody, Ty Jerome, and Zeke Nnaji. Even if his name wasn’t LeBron James Jr., Bronny is good enough that he might one day play in the NBA. But if he doesn’t get bigger, his game will have to get bigger instead.

Where Will Bronny Play After High School?

If any college coaches did offer Bronny a scholarship when he was 10, they seem to have changed their minds. Adam Finkelstein, the director of scouting for 247Sports, recently said that no college basketball teams were seriously pursuing Bronny. This makes sense since most people think he will skip college basketball to take a more development-focused path. What does that mean, then? Is Bronny going to play for a living in Australia or Europe?

Since LeBron James jr. moved to L.A. for “my family and the Lakers,” it doesn’t seem likely that Bronny will spend his gap year on another continent. Will LeBron James jr start a league like the Junior Basketball Association, which is run by the Ball family? (Who could forget how LiAngelo Ball scored 58 points to help the Los Angeles Ballers beat the Seattle Ballers and win the championship?)

The NBA’s G League, which has become a real way for players to skip college and focus on their game, seems a likely choice. Even though a few prospects had already gone to the G League right out of high school, the pipeline is more official now that the G League Ignite program, which is designed for prep-to-pro players, will start in 2020. In just two years, the Ignite programme has helped produce four first-round picks: Marjon Beauchamp, Dyson Daniels, Jonathan Kuminga, and Jaleel Green. They also have roster spots for the sons of NBA legends. For example, they just signed Shareef O’Neal after he went undrafted out of LSU. They want to help him improve his game. The new Overtime Elite league wants to do about the same thing, but I doubt the James family would want to stir up the NBA by becoming the face of Ignite’s biggest competitor.

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What Should The Lakers Do?

LeBron took his skills to South Beach to make a superteam, went back home to the Cavs to win one for Cleveland, and went to L.A. to see “family and the Lakers” (and maybe to help launch his movie production career). But Bronny will make the Difference 4.0. In February, he said, “Wherever Bronny is, that’s where I’ll be.” In that interview, he also hinted that he might go back to Cleveland and was a little upset that the Lakers didn’t make any trades before the deadline, but he sounded sincere. So, if the Lakers want to keep LeBron James jr, they should make some changes. Even though Bronny can’t play in the NBA until 2024, the Lakers could bring him in a year early if they wanted to.

Since 2006, the Lakers have owned the South Bay Lakers, a team in the G League. This is the longest relationship of any NBA team. (Back then, they were called the Los Angeles D-Fenders because the league was called the “Developmental League,” or “D-League.” Now, Gatorade sponsors the league, but I think “G League” is short for “Developmental League.” After high school, Bronny could enter the G League draught. Any team could draught him, and they might want to because of his name recognition and marketing potential, but G League draught picks are easy to get for a low price. (Even the number one pick!) It’s not crazy to think that if the Lakers want Bronny to go to South Bay, they could make that happen.

What the Warriors did with Alen Smailagic could be a plan for the Lakers. When Smailagic was 16, they started to watch him play in Serbia. They signed him to the Santa Cruz Warriors, which gave Golden State’s front office control over his development. But they didn’t have the right to pick him in the NBA draught, so any team could have taken him. But Smailagic was not available to other teams for most of the time leading up to the 2019 draught, and the Warriors picked him 39th. Even though the experiment didn’t work (Smailagic only played in 29 games for Golden State and was let go after two seasons), it shows how a team can control a player from the prospect level up to the professional level.

The G League has a surprisingly long history of using a roster spot to please a big name in the NBA. The Bucks’ G League team, the Wisconsin Herd, just made a trade to get Alex Antetokounmpo, the fourth of the Antetokounmpo brothers. The Heat chose Trey Mourning with the second pick in the G League draught. This may have been because Alonzo Mourning is the team’s VP of player development. And Zaire Wade, a former teammate of LeBron’s at Sierra Canyon, was taken in the first round of the 2021 G League draught by the Salt Lake City Stars, the affiliate of the Utah Jazz, which is partially owned by his father, Dwyane Wade, who used to play with LeBron James jr.

And LiAngelo Ball, who won the JBA, wound up on the Greensboro Swarm, the G League team of LaMelo’s Hornets. When the Knicks signed J.R. Smith’s brother to a shady NBA contract, the NBA had to look into it. However, the G League is for developing players, so they don’t have to be ready for prime time. So if the Lakers brought in Bronny as a favor to LeBron, they would be following in the footsteps of many other teams. The difference is that Bronny is a much better NBA prospect than any of those players, so their nepotism would be okay.

Two things are wrong with this plan. The first is that LeBron wouldn’t be able to play with his son in the G League unless he was recovering from an injury. I don’t think LeBron’s dream of playing with his son in a game against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants involves coming back from a sprained ankle. The second is that having a player on your G League team has no effect on which NBA team he will play for in the future. Even though it would be nice for Bronny to be around his dad about a year earlier, the Lakers would still have to pick him in the NBA draught if they want to keep the Jameses around for a long time.

Stay tuned for more updates, Nog Magazine.