LeBron James raised some eyebrows with his selections in the 2019 NBA All-Star Game draft, but the Los Angeles Lakers superstar wants to make it clear that he was using the "best player available" strategy—and nothing more.
On Saturday, James quieted the notion that he was using the draft as a way to help him recruit players to Los Angeles, per SportsCenter:
"Everyone kind of gets up for fantasy basketball talk," James said, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin. "Guys that are restricted free agents, that are free agents, I don't know, [guys that have] player options. That's all part of the speculation that continues to drive our sport."
Team James consists of:
- Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
- Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
- Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
- James Harden, Houston Rockets
- Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
- Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
- Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
- LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
- Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
- Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
- Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (who was acquired in a draft-day trade for Russell Westbrook)
Interestingly, five of James' first six picks were either players who can be free agents this summer (Durant, Irving, Leonard and Thompson) or have requested a trade (Davis). Harden was the only player whose future with his current team is not in question.
Basketball Twitter took notice of the trend:
Even fellow captain Giannis Antetokounmpo brought up the topic of tampering:
James' picks were especially intriguing after the Lakers had reportedly spent the week leading up to the Feb. 7 trade deadline trying to acquire Davis from the Pelicans. And with the team sitting in 10th place in the Western Conference at 28-27, speculation of a roster makeover persist.
Tampering in the NBA has become a hot topic in recent seasons, with New Orleans even requesting the league keep everyone in check amid Davis' trade request. Of note, Lakers president Magic Johnson was fined $50,000 last June for comments regarding Antetokounmpo.
Tampering rules have yet to be enforced against players, though. And as James said on TNT on Thursday night, "Tampering rules does not apply on All-Star Weekend."
Team James will be worth watching next weekend in Charlotte, even if the reigning All-Star Game MVP didn't draft his team with the intention of recruiting.