LeBron James says All-Star Game selections about competing, not recruiting

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Sunday, February 10, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- LeBron James knows that his All-Star draft was perceived as a preemptive recruiting measure for all of the players with flexible contract situations who he targeted, but he said that the motivation behind his picks was simply fielding the best team possible.

"I think that's a great conversation," the Los Angeles Lakers superstar said after practice Saturday, a couple days removed from Thursday's draft. "Everyone kind of gets up for fantasy basketball talk. 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."

James selected Kevin Durant, who is expected to decline to opt in to the final year of his contract with the Golden State Warriors and test free agency this summer, with the No. 1 overall pick.

James then added former teammate Kyrie Irving -- who is also expected to decline his player option for 2019-20 with the Boston Celtics and sign a long-term contract to either stay or go -- as well as Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson, two more players expected to draw a lot of interest on the open market this summer.

"It's all good and well and dandy, but for me, I picked according to my draft board, and I picked according to who was the best available," James continued. "It just so happened that I had KD, who's a pending free agent, and Kyrie, who's a pending free agent. James [Harden] is under contract until 2030. Kawhi's a free agent."

The NBA changed to a draft format for All-Star last year for the February festivities in Los Angeles. Under the new parameters, the top vote-getter in each conference is named a captain and they take turns picking their teams, choosing from a starters pool first and then reserves.

James has been named a captain both years -- last year as the leading vote-getter in the Eastern Conference and this year supplanting Stephen Curry as the leading vote-getter in the Western Conference. Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo was named the captain of the East for next weekend's game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"It was fun," James said. "It was fun. But look forward to seeing someone else do it next year. No, I had fun. Me, Giannis and obviously the crew from TNT. I hope the fans got something out of it as well watching it."

More fans certainly tuned in, as TNT reported a 60 percent gain in viewership for the televised draft versus last year's show, when James' and Curry's teams were simply released after the draft had already occurred off camera.

James veered from his intended draft order a couple times, he said, when Antetokounmpo threw him for a loop.

"There was a couple shuffles," James said. "I knew where I was going with my first and my second pick because he had already stated he was going with Steph. So I knew I was going KD and Ky. So I kind of got shuffled a little bit when he picked [Joel] Embiid and had to kind of change my thing around. I like my team."

James put the finishing touches on his squad by executing the first trade in NBA All-Star draft history, swapping Russell Westbrook to Team Giannis in exchange for Ben Simmons.

His reasoning?

"I know how great friends Russ and Embiid is," James said, sarcastically, referencing the ongoing beef between the two superstars. Another obvious reason he failed to mention is his close personal relationship with Simmons, as the pair shares an agent in Rich Paul of Klutch Sports.

James' team also features New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis -- another Klutch client. James' Lakers furiously tried to trade for Davis leading up to Thursday's trade deadline, winding up unsuccessful in their pursuit.

"He's under contract," James said, stating a fact that's left the Lakers wondering if they'll have to wait until the summer of 2020 to add Davis as a free agent if they cannot strike a deal for him this summer.

James also listed the other players he selected who are locked up with their current teams. Had he wanted to go all-in on free agents, he could have tried to add Orlando's Nikola Vucevic and Milwaukee's Khris Middleton before Antetokounmpo did.

"Bradley Beal's under contract," James said. "Karl-Anthony Towns is under contract. Klay is a free agent. Who else is on my team? LaMarcus [Aldridge] is under contract. Dwyane [Wade] is jobless. And I'm under contract."

Wade and James will be reunited as teammates one last time final Wade and Dirk Nowitzki were special team roster additions as the 13th man on either squad by NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

"Probably my worst All-Star Game by far playing with that guy," James said of Wade, tongue in cheek. "I can't believe I'm sharing another All-Star Game with Dwyane Wade, my least favorite person in the world. Nah, it's going to be special, that's for sure, man. It's his last hoorah and to be part of All-Star Weekend is going to be a treat."

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