Second Rounds and Second Chances: the Fate of Bronny James

Round Two of the draft is hours away

Bronny excelled at the NBA Draft Combine earlier this year
Bronny excelled at the NBA Draft Combine earlier this year
Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

He has a legendary father, a season of college ball and a cardiac arrest under his belt. Now, ESPN analysts argue that Bronny James is the future of the NBA. “Just because he didn’t have a helluva college season and he’s not showing signs of being a good college player, that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be a good pro,” insisted Kendrick Perkins at the end of USC’s 2023 season. 

That kind of performance wouldn’t be unprecedented. Dereck Lively II averaged just 5.2 points per game over his single season at Duke. He was picked up in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft, then traded to the Dallas Mavericks, where he became a key player on a thunderous march to last month’s Finals. Still, Bronny’s performance with USC has been markedly worse than Lively’s with Duke — and that’s without considering looming concerns over his cardiac health.

Since his hospitalization last August, ESPN has committed consistent coverage to Bronny — a major story in an otherwise lackluster draft class. Though his college stats were disappointing at best (and crowned by an abysmal 36.6 FG%), his full recovery, impressive workouts and possible propensity for NBA ball have some insiders turning their heads.

On the eve of May’s Draft Combine, after months of scrutiny over his congenital heart defect, Bronny was cleared to participate in the 2024 Draft. His combine performance was impressive, clocking the fourth-highest vertical leap and second-best 3-point drill among all 78 participants. Bronny was “one of the fastest and most explosive athletes at the [combine],” announced ESPN.

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Aside from his volatile demonstrated talent, Bronny has become something of a bargaining chip for his father. LeBron, who boasts four rings, ten championships and the league scoring record, is near-universally touted as a top-two NBA player of all time. Though he’s approaching 40 years old, he’s remained spry, carrying his Lakers (note the possessive) through multiple stellar seasons since he was acquired in 2018. LeBron has already reached the consecrated rank of oldest player in the NBA, but has shown no interest in retiring, perhaps because of a dream he’s held since Bronny was in high school: “My last year will be played with my son,” LeBron told the Athletic in 2022. “Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year.”

Lebron’s interest in joining Bronny is of particular note as his contract with the Lakers expires this summer. Though he has a player option which would extend the agreement through the 2024 season, team executives league-wide are acutely aware of their opportunity to reach for the entire James family in one fell swoop. Conversely, analysts have noted LeBron’s lukewarmness on switching squads, harping on his previous addendum that he wants to play with Bronny “either in the same uniform or [in] a matchup against him.” 

With his influence on the Lakers squad — LeBron was a notable factor in L.A.’s decision to hire head coach J.J. Reddick — and stake in Bronny’s career, it would be unsurprising if LeBron spurred the Lakers to pick up his son in the second round. The Lakers hold the 55th overall slot in this week’s 58-pick draft, the perfect moment to grab a somewhat talented, rising star prospect with a couple added benefits.

While NBA fans have spurned Bronny’s admirable positioning in the draft as nepotistic and undeserved, the young James has remained collected and sanguine. “I said to him, ‘Bronny, what’s important to you?’” recalled James family agent, Rich Paul on Monday, “you know what he said to me? ‘Man, Rich, I just want to hear my name called.’”

Round 2 of the 2024 NBA Draft kicks off this afternoon at 4pm EST.

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