Hollinger: Of course the Lakers were going to draft Bronny and other NBA Draft takeaways

It was a historic moment, setting up the first father-son combination in NBA history. But I wouldn’t quite go so far as to call it heartwarming.
More like: It is what it is.

Of course the Los Angeles Lakers were going to draft Bronny James if he was there with the 55th pick. Just call it Thanasis TakeTwoakounmpo: Selecting the younger James was an incredibly inexpensive insurance policy to keep potential free agent LeBron James in L.A.

Of course the Lakers weren’t going to mind the cost, not when the typical return on pick No. 55 is bupkes. If he turns into an actual player, so much the better, but that wasn’t the core part of the calculation here, even if no sane Laker staffer would say this in their out-loud voice.

Finally, the other part too many people missed: Of course James was going to be there for the Lakers to select with that pick. Usually agents have limited leverage to dictate a player’s landing spot on draft night, especially when it comes to second-rounders. But nothing about this case was usual.

In particular, I’ve had people ask me since midseason about what would happen if another team drafted the younger James and then tried to keep him as a hostage, theoretically forcing the Lakers to overpay to wrest him away. It would have been hilarious if the rival Boston Celtics, picking one choice ahead of the Lakers at 54th, selected him.

But in reality, Bronny wasn’t a valuable hostage because he had options. If an unwanted team had called his bluff, Bronny James could have played overseas or signed the one-year tender and waited out the team that drafted him or just plain sat out, knowing that A) he didn’t need the money and B) the Lakers would always be there waiting. Few other 55th picks can say the same thing.



Bronny James is now a Laker. Here’s what lies ahead in his NBA career

And with that … I’m already exhausted. Soon we’ll have breathless updates from his NBA Summer League games (remember, the Lakers are also playing in the California Classic ahead of summer league, so James would start playing July 6 in San Francisco against Sacramento), because Bronny James moves the needle.

But all I can think about is what an unfortunate circus it creates for a developmental teenage player who, while not without talent, is clearly a long way away. Most 55th picks don’t make it, and even the ones who do scrape out a tenuous existence as the E’Twaun Moores and Aaron Wigginses of the league. I’m not convinced this situation improves the younger James’ chances of being an exception.

On to my other big thoughts from the two-day NBA Draft extravaganza:

Luxury tax avoidance, Part 1

While the tax aprons of the new collective bargaining agreement have been the biggest story in the early days of the offseason, let’s not forget that scourge of yore: the plain ol’ luxury tax. Certainly a few NBA teams haven’t.

Sacramento traded itself below the tax line in a salary dump with Toronto that saw the Kings send the 45th pick (used on guard Jamal Shead) and a juicy Portland 2025 second-rounder to the Raptors. The Kings cut over $8 million in salary by sending Sasha Vezenkov and Davion Mitchell to Toronto for Jalen McDaniels, lightening a glut of superfluous backcourt players and adding a true four in the process.

I would argue the Kings might have given up on Vezenkov a year too soon — European imports often need a year to get their sea legs — but he was fairly duplicative of Trey Lyles. Sacramento now has $8 million in wiggle room under the tax line and at least two open roster spots; I’d expect a backup center to be one of them. If they wanted, the Kings could even go back over the tax line by using their entire non-taxpayer midlevel exception, though I wouldn’t bet on it.

For Toronto, Shead becomes an additional asset from the Pascal Siakam trade with Indiana this winter — the Raptors could make this trade because they had a $10 million trade exception left over from that deal.



What it was like for Raptors to have first the pick of the NBA Draft’s second round

Luxury tax avoidance, Part 2

In Portland, we had a combination salary dump and acquisition that got the Trail Blazers out of the tax and brought in a likely starter in Deni Avdija. The Blazers sent out the more expensive Malcolm Brogdon and created a $6.9 million trade exception, leaving Portland with a full boat of 15 contracts and $4.6 million in wiggle room below the tax line.

Malcolm Brogdon is headed to D.C. (Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

But this was expensive; the Blazers gave up the 14th pick in Wednesday’s first round (used by Washington on guard Bub Carrington) and an unprotected first in 2029 that is the second best of Portland’s, Milwaukee’s or Boston’s, plus two future second-rounders. Avdija is a good player on a sweet contract, just beginning a four-year, $55 million extension this fall, but the Blazers are likely to take their lumps again this coming season as basically the only team in the Western Conference without playoff aspirations.

The question now: Can Portland recoup those picks in deals for veterans Jerami Grant, Deandre Ayton or Anfernee Simons?

Luxury tax avoidance, Part 3

The Hawks dealt with their “problem” of winning the lottery and the higher salary that came with the No. 1 pick by trading AJ Griffin to Houston, putting the Hawks within easy hailing distance of the luxury-tax line and all but assuring the first apron won’t be an issue in the short term.

That’s likely all Atlanta needs for now, as any Trae Young or Dejounte Murray deal is likely to cut salary and get the Hawks the rest of the $3 million to $4 million in breathing room they need to get below the tax for the season.

Apron avoidance

Denver isn’t likely to end up all the way out of the luxury tax, but the Nuggets will end up surprisingly close. With Denver seeming likely to lose Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in free agency, and having surrendered three second-round picks to Charlotte just to drop a $5.2 million salary in Reggie Jackson, the Nuggets are right at the tax line.

Getting there has been a journey. The Nuggets have traded every draft pick they can legally trade, although they still can move some first-round pick swaps. Every future second is spoken for, and because of the Stepien rule, the Nuggets can’t trade a first until after the 2025 draft.

In fact, they technically traded a couple of their picks going to Charlotte twice. There is a low-but-not-zero probability that the 2029 and 2030 second-round picks the Nuggets gave to the Hornets would instead be needed to satisfy the terms of two previous trades with Oklahoma City, although it would only happen if the Nuggets picked in the top five three straight years from 2027 to 2029. That’s probably not worth the Hornets sweating, although it’s a fun topic for cap nerds.

Boldest move

Minnesota has no assets and somehow still traded into the lottery to grab Rob Dillingham with the eighth pick by sending San Antonio a pick swap in 2030 and its own first-round pick, top-one protected, in 2031.

The Wolves are deep enough into the tax that adding talent on the first year of a rookie contract had to be tempting, and this particular move solved three problems: a lack of shot creation in the second unit, a lack of a succession plan at point guard behind the 36-year-old Mike Conley and a lack of young talent on Anthony Edwards’ timeline. If Dillingham hits, they have all three.

Minnesota partly offset the salary cap cost by offloading little-used guard Wendell Moore, but the Wolves still are $27 million over the projected tax line — way past the second apron — with only 11 players under contract. It seems likely they’ll end up with a frozen 2032 draft pick and a huge tax bill this year, which is a scary place for a mid-size market team with an ongoing ownership dispute. But they have a contending team right now, and for the moment, at least, they’re spending to keep it there.



Analysis, fits for all 58 NBA Draft picks from John Hollinger and Sam Vecenie

This draft had questions

You know it maybe wasn’t a great draft when commentators discussing the top pick spew adjectives like “competent” and “complementary.” Was it the fate of the Hawks to finally win the draft lottery when the big prize was … adding some wing depth?

No, this wasn’t the Victor Wembanyama draft. The Minnesota-San Antonio transaction above was one of several that were indicative of a relatively low value being placed on picks in this draft, considered the weakest in years by many analysts. I mean, the Spurs really tapped out of the eighth pick to get a Wolves choice seven years from now and a possibly valueless swap six years out?

Yes, they did, and they weren’t the only ones who were quick to ask for the check and get in the valet line. Orlando bailed on the middle of the second round — pick No. 47 — without even getting a full draft pick; the Magic received second-round pick swaps from the Pelicans in the distant beyond of 2030 and 2031. Portland, as noted above, was willing to send the 14th pick to the Wizards in the Avdija trade despite being a rebuilding team itself. The Phoenix Suns only needed a top-45 protected 2028 second from Boston to move themselves from 56th to 40th.

An anticipated trade flurry in the early part of the draft never really materialized, in part, because nobody wanted what these teams were selling. Moving down is only a rewarding draft strategy if there are desperate suitors trying to move up. The 2024 draft wasn’t that kind of party.

Weirdest pick

I’m still scratching my head over the Milwaukee Bucks’ selection of A.J. Johnson with the 23rd pick. For starters, Milwaukee also had a pick at No. 33 that it used, and Johnson was highly likely to still be there at the top of Round 2.

AJ Johnson drives to the basket during a National Basketball League playoff game. (Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images)

Whether it was three, 23 or 53, Johnson failed to check some other key boxes for the Bucks. Milwaukee is a pretty extreme win-now team, and Johnson is a pretty extreme win-later pick given that he barely got minutes in the vastly worst Australian League this past season. He’s only 19 and 160 pounds; whatever he’s going to be, it will take a while to get here.

Johnson’s lack of shooting makes him a very difficult player to introduce into the Bucks’ Giannis-centric ecosystem. He would have to make considerable strides just to be playable in the Bucks’ best contention time frame, and he was picked high enough that it has real opportunity cost: Milwaukee easily could have selected a more ready player (such as Creighton shooter Baylor Scheierman, who went to Boston instead) or parlayed the pick into more veteran talent.

The Bucks at least made out better at pick No. 33, when they tabbed G League Ignite stretch big Tyler Smith. He’s another teenager who needs to refine his craft, but his skill level on offense could allow him to play a bit more regularly while he learns.

Most divisive pick

I’m not sure how Zach Edey is going to work out in Memphis, but I am very sure he will be among the league leaders in opinions between now and opening day. Adding to the mystery: Edey might not be available for summer league, as he’s joining the Canadian national team in training for the Olympics.

There are multiple elements to this discussion. First, the question of Edey’s ability to survive on defense in the NBA. While he was very effective playing drop coverage in the Big Ten, the speed and perimeter focus of the NBA will challenge him in ways college basketball couldn’t.

And second of all, there’s the fit issue of putting a Clydesdale out there with the greyhounds. Memphis wants to run, and Ja Morant and Co. may end up leaving Edey in the dust. The Grizzlies also seemed to be tilting toward a smaller, faster alignment with former Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. playing center; adding Edey to the mix would push Jackson back to the four and leave Memphis bigger and slower.

How will it work out? We likely won’t get much information until October.



The IkoSystem: What exactly are the Grizzlies up to taking Zach Edey at the NBA Draft?

Best value

Utah grabbed the players I had ranked ninth and 12th on my board … with pick Nos. 29 and 32. Kyle Filipowski and Isaiah Collier both had weaknesses that turned off some scouts, but they were young, highly productive college players who were asked to fill big roles. I think each might be able to come in and play rotation minutes right away, although both players need to become more consistent from beyond the arc to become long-term pieces.

Worst value

Orlando gets it for the second year in a row. One year after drafting Jett Howard, my 38th-ranked player, at No. 11, the Magic took Colorado forward Tristan da Silva, my 51st-ranked player, at No. 18.

Da Silva, like Howard, offered some promise with a size-shooting combination, but the rest of his resume is deeply underwhelming. And unlike Howard, da Silva is also 23. As our Mike Vorkunov noted, the history of top-20 picks this old has been extremely disappointing.

(Top photo of Zach Edey: Grace Hollars / IndyStar / USA Today; top photo of Bronny James: Jeff Haynes / NBAE via Getty Images)

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