LeBron and Bronny James might have won the draft, but at what cost?

NEW YORK — So shall it be said, so shall it be done.

The King and the Prince, united — not just in household but in employer, as the Los Angeles Lakers drafted LeBron James Jr., also known as Bronny James, to pair with his father, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Assuming the two take the floor together — James does have a player option — they’ll be the first father-son duo to share the court in NBA history.

It took cajoling and perhaps even some threats, at least reportedly, by Rich Paul. Paul is the super agent and childhood friend of the elder James, and apparently he told teams that were thinking of drafting Bronny that he would play in Australia rather than for the team that selected him — except in regard to the Lakers.

Bronny wasn’t among the eight players in attendance the NBA put in a makeshift green room at ESPN’s Seaport location in New York — the first time the NBA held its draft on multiple days, with the second round occurring Thursday afternoon.

Bronny, ostensibly, was the biggest name of available players, along with Kyle Filipowski. Filipowski, the center from Duke who was the lone man remaining in the green room on Thursday night, was selected by the Utah Jazz with the second pick of the second round.

Bronny James talks to media during the 2024 NBA basketball Draft Combine in Chicago, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)Bronny James talks to media during the 2024 NBA basketball Draft Combine in Chicago, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Bronny James talks to the media during the 2024 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

On the floor, Bronny James is said to be mature and a good defender with an improving jump shot. He doesn’t have the massive height of his father, or the otherworldly athleticism, but he’s a plus athlete and appears to be a smart player.

If it can be harnessed, perhaps the 19-year-old can turn into a rotation player with the right environment, coaching and development — the same thing most teams say about late second-round picks.

And players with familiar last names get more chances, more looks than those who don’t have that pedigree — it’s just not as publicized. And at some point, Bronny James will have to sink or swim on his own merit, and then we can truly judge him.

For the last few months, the elder James was backing off his stated goal of wanting to play with his son. It was not as much of a demand or even a wish, as we were led to believe, and that Bronny James’ future was his own, not from machinations of his agent or his father.

That doesn’t look to be totally true at this point, and it isn’t anything other than normal agent maneuvering, on one level. Agents steer their clients to and away from desirable and undesirable situations routinely this time of year. In fact, Ron Holland didn’t work out in Detroit prior to being selected fifth, and new Pistons president Trajan Langdon admitted agents didn’t want their players working out for that particular franchise — probably because of the turmoil from the last few years.

And speaking of nepotism, that franchise has it at high levels. Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem has made sure his son, Eric Tellem, has a high-ranking role in the Pistons’ front office. And so much scuttle in the days leading up to the draft had the Pistons linked to Matas Buzelis, who’s represented by Michael Tellem, another one of Arn Tellem’s sons.

So nepotism, or at least the appearance of it, happens all the time in this league, and it happens in plain sight if we’re willing to look. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything nefarious is happening, it just means it exists and there’s no reason to pretend.

When LeBron is involved and he’s openly stated wanting to play with Bronny, it feels different. Bronny James only worked out for two teams — the Lakers and Phoenix Suns, declining invitations elsewhere.

So this was totally manipulated, and it’s OK to feel a little weird about it. It’s now a spectacle, a show and no longer about competition and rightfulness.

We were all taken for a ride as fools to believe anything else than what James has shown us for years, wanting to control conversation and the narrative.

Not to mention last summer, Bronny James suffered a cardiac arrest during a USC open run. Just seeing him back on the floor felt like a miracle in itself, even if his numbers and production didn’t overwhelm anyone in his one season at Southern California.

So what happens now?

LeBron’s’ podcast partner, JJ Redick, is now the Lakers’ coach and both claim the future Hall of Famer didn’t have much to do with the sloppy and confusing process that predictably concluded with the ESPN analyst being named coach shortly after the NBA Finals ended.

Now, he’s playing with his son, in who knows what role because we’ve seen so very little of Bronny James to determine his readiness at this level. Most of the highlights shown of the younger James were from the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago because he’s so much of an unknown.

The Lakers are a family-run organization. The Buss family, the Rambis family and now, the James family. If there’s one organization that couldn’t thumb its nose at a star wanting this particular wish, it’s the Lakers.

One wonders where winning fits into this equation for LeBron James at this point. A team taking a flier on Bronny James with the 55th pick isn’t exactly costing them much — Bronny is as much of an unknown as players taken dozens of spots above him — but the Lakers are intent on telling everyone how serious they are about winning and reclaiming their spot on the NBA’s mountain of winners.

But since winning the bubble championship in 2020, the Lakers have participated in five playoff series and gone 2-3 in them, going through more coaches than successes.

James continues his assault on the record books, placing more statistical distance between himself and those behind him by sheer longevity, but it feels like he’s further from winning anything substantial than any other point of his career — or at least since becoming a full-grown man his last few years in Cleveland.

His appetite, wanting all things in line, is as insatiable as it is exhausting as it feels impossible to achieve.

A fifth championship in this crowded Western Conference that has no real estate for old men is only getting tougher, but getting more max money with the Lakers is easily attainable.

Playing with his son, getting some memorable give-and-goes and alley-oops, now that seems fun and likely and Instagram-worthy.

At some point, James will retire and take his capital and use that to purchase a significant stake in a franchise — maybe taking Bronny with him.

It’s the James way — or better yet, the American Way.

Just look around.