On a day that came and went without the Pelicans sending Anthony Davis to the Lakers or anywhere else by the NBA’s trade deadline, LeBron James still managed to team up with the New Orleans big man. James, though, had to settle for selecting Davis in Thursday’s NBA all-star draft before making a joke about “tampering.”
The other all-star team captain who was participating in the draft, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks, actually was first to make a humorous reference to the Lakers’ fervent but fruitless pursuit of Davis. The disenchanted Pelicans star was not voted as a starter for the All-Star Game and as a reserve, he wasn’t eligible to be drafted until the second round of selections.
Once Antetokounmpo started that round with Milwaukee teammate Khris Middleton, it was a relative no-brainer for James to go with Davis. After he did, the Lakers star said he was “very sure” he wanted to make Davis his teammate.
“Isn’t that tampering?” Antetokounmpo asked with a smile, provoking laughter from James and the “NBA on TNT” hosts who were commenting on the draft.
“Tampering rules do not apply on All-Star Weekend,” James replied with a chuckle.
In December, shortly after James said it would be “amazing” and “incredible” to have Davis as a teammate on the Lakers, the NBA issued a memo to all teams reminding them of its rules on tampering and the consequences for violating them. The league fined Davis $50,000 last month following a revelation made by his agent that Davis wanted to be traded away from the Pelicans to “a team that allows him the chance to win consistently and compete for a championship.”
The format of having two team captains — selected by virtue of getting the most fan votes in their respective conferences — draft their all-star teammates without regard to conference is in its second year, but Thursday marked the first time the process was televised. James was a team captain last year along with the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, and he declared after that draft that it should be televised, but the fact that he had to play Thursday night meant that this installment was recorded in the morning and shown on TNT in the evening.
The order in which players were taken in last year’s draft was not officially revealed, although much of it leaked out, and the fact that this year’s would be televised caused some speculation about how embarrassing it would be for whomever was picked last. The NBA found a clever way to get around that while paying tribute to a pair of legends about to leave the stage, adding the Heat’s Dwyane Wade and the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki as “special team roster additions” and setting up a final draft round comprising just those two.
Given that James had the first pick of that round, it was a foregone conclusion that he would select Wade, his close friend and former championship-winning Miami teammate. But he had some fun with that moment.
“Everyone in the world knows who I’m going with. I’m going with Dirk — I’m just kidding,” he said with a hearty guffaw. “I’m going with my buddy, Dwyane Wade.”
The first pick of the draft was the Warriors’ Kevin Durant, and James confirmed to TNT’s Ernie Johnson that it was the second year in a row that he had kicked off the proceedings with that selection. Antetokounmpo followed with another Golden State player, Curry, before James went with the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, who won a title in Cleveland with James.
The last of the starters to get drafted was the Hornets’ Kemba Walker, who will be playing in front of his home fans at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center. The final reserve to go off the board was the Wizards’ Bradley Beal, who claimed last week that televising the draft was “dumb,” saying: “I mean, we’re just picking teams. You guys just want to make a big deal out of who’s last.”
Beal added at the time, though: “Y’all can pick me last, man. Because at the end of the day, I’m still an all-star. It doesn’t change anything.”
After the teams were created, James and Antetokounmpo made a trade, with James sending the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook to the other side for the 76ers’ Ben Simmons. When Antetokounmpo took Simmons minutes before, James used an expletive and exclaimed, “You took my guy!”
Antetokounmpo replied that he was “playing mind games” with James, but the all-star ultimately most fazed by Simmons’s selection and subsequent trade was Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, who had been picked fourth overall by Antetokounmpo and took to social media to react to the turn of events. Not only did Embiid lose the chance to play with his real-life teammate in the All-Star Game, he was stuck with Westbrook, who has made no bones of his dislike for Embiid.
The past few 76ers-Thunder games have been contentious affairs and after Embiid’s hard foul on Westbrook in a meeting last month led to an on-court confrontation, Westbrook was asked if he was “cool” with the 76ers center.
“F--- no,” Westbrook replied, while Embiid said of his nemesis, “I don’t know why he was mad. I have no idea, but he’s always in his feelings.”
TNT’s Charles Barkley used the Westbrook-Simmons swap to joke that Antetokounmpo should trade “everybody on his bench for Anthony Davis.” Instead, “The Greek Freak” wound up with a notable amount of international players on his roster, including Embiid, Nowitzki, the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic and the Magic’s Nikola Vucevic. That outcome was “definitely on purpose,” Antetokounmpo said.
Here are the final all-star rosters, listed in order of how they were drafted (note that the captains alternated picks in each round and that, before the trade, Simmons was taken four spots ahead of Westbrook):
Starters: LeBron James (Lakers), Kevin Durant (Warriors), Kyrie Irving (Celtics), Kawhi Leonard (Raptors), James Harden (Rockets)
Reserves: Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Klay Thompson (Warriors), Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers), Ben Simmons (76ers), LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs), Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves), Bradley Beal (Wizards), Dwyane Wade (Heat)
Starters: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Stephen Curry (Warriors), Joel Embiid (76ers), Paul George (Thunder), Kemba Walker (Hornets)
Reserves: Khris Middleton (Bucks), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Russell Westbrook (Thunder), Blake Griffin (Pistons), D’Angelo Russell (Nets), Nikola Vucevic (Magic), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), Dirk Nowitzki (Mavericks)
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