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  • Writer's pictureJoshua U.

2024 NBA “Pre-Agency”: Mikal to Manhattan, Bronny James drafted to father’s Lakers, other notes

The NBA’s equal parts current & controversial Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified in April of 2023. The new CBA features a slew of changes compared to the previous agreements, but one change in particular has stood out over the rest at this point in the offseason.

NBA logo during the 2020 Bubble

The "second apron."

At one of my former retail positions, I always used to have to grab a second apron during my shifts because I became synonymous with accidents & spillages at a point. The all-important second apron.

Anyway, as it relates to the CBA, the second apron is an extremely restrictive salary threshold that has every executive office in the NBA by the balls as we speak.

For the previous decade-plus before this latest CBA came into affect, the NBA featured only one tax apron that put restrictions on how much a team could spend on its salary cap without being subject to luxury taces and other punitive measures. With the addition of the second apron, which for 2024-25 is approximately $11 million above the first apron, contending franchises now have to move with extreme savvy to field championship-level teams year in and year out. If a team’s cap sheet dared to trek into second apron territory, they would be subject to some of the wildest operation restrictions in professional sports history, as outlined below.

As a result, front offices across the Association find themselves moving more meticulously than ever before.

One FO in particular, though, has stuck out as especially shrewd.

From the 'Nova Knicks' to the 'SuperNova Knicks'

Knicks and Nova Wildcat teammates Josh Hart, Donte DiVincenzo, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges.
Honestly, I've seen worse photoshop. Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo & the new Knick Mikal Bridges. Via ESPN.

The New York Knicks’ rise to true contention began with their midseason acquisition of OG Anunoby on Dec. 30th, 2023. Anunoby, due to his elite two-way play, quickly made himself a perfect fit on NYK’s roster, specifically next to All-Stars Jalen Brunson & Julius Randle. The Knicks went 20-3 in 2023-24’s regular season with Anunoby on the court.

The Knicks’ problem was that Anunoby wasn’t on the court for multiple chunks of the Knicks late-season push to the East’s 2nd seed due to injury. To make matters worse for New York, the injury bug spread like wildfire, as Randle, Brunson, and important role player pieces such as Mitchell Robinson, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Josh Hart weren’t able to make it to the finish line as the Knicks' season ended in disaster at a home Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at the hands of the healthier, sprier Indiana Pacers.

Knicks' Julius Randle and OG Anunoby.
Despite their best efforts, Julius Randle, OG Anunoby & others' injuries proved costly to the Knicks' Finals hopes.

It’s up for debate whether a healthy Knicks team could’ve gotten past the Pacers and challenged the eventual champion Boston Celtics in the next round. To quote post-Finals Jayson Tatum (who quoted Kanye West) — “I guess we’ll never know.”

But the facts paint a clear picture: The Knicks, as evidenced by their outstanding all-around play in January after the Anunoby deal, were a team worthy of legitimate title talk. And when that’s the case, you’ve got to push all your chips to the middle of the table and go all-in from that point forward.

Knicks president Leon Rose & co. have done just that. Late Tuesday evening, the Knicks dealt Bogdanovic, 5 first-round picks and a pick swap to the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Mikal Bridges, marking the first time the Knicks and Nets have engaged each other in a deal since 1983... 41 years ago!

As it stands now:

  • Knicks acquire: Mikal Bridges, 2026 2nd-round pick

  • Nets acquire: Bojan Bogdanovic, 4 unprotected 1st-round picks (2025, 2027, 2029, 2031), 1 protected 1st-round pick (2025, MIL), unprotected pick swap in 2028

Both teams saw a golden opportunity to serve their new goals; the Knicks got another piece to push them closer to Eastern Conference supremacy and the Nets landed an absolute haul as the stimulus package for their rebuild.

Bridges had long been coveted by the Knicks for a couple of reasons. For one, Bridges is on a very short list of the best two-way wings in the entire NBA. He can check both opposing star guards and wings defensively & he offers just as versatile a profile offensively; he put up huge scoring numbers (up over 26 PPG) upon his arrival to Brooklyn from Phoenix in the Kevin Durant deal two years ago. He is also one of the best corner three-point shooters in the league, which makes him another perfect fit alongside Brunson and Randle. The other reason the Knicks held Bridges in such high regard was based in who New York had starring on their roster already.

Full circle moments have become a tradition of sorts if you starred on the Villanova Wildcats from 2015 to 2018.

Bridges won two championships during his time as a Villanova Wildcat from 2015-18 alongside teammates Brunson, Hart, and Donte DiVincenzo. It was Josh Hart that repeatedly & publicly needled Bridges with the fact that while he, Jalen, and Donte were all teammates on the Knicks, Bridges (or Squidward) was left to waste away in Brooklyn. Now, they will all get set to take the Madison Square Garden court together as a “SuperNova” foursome.

Paying four former title-winning collegiate teammates each 8-figure salaries to play together in the NBA is historic; it’s never been seen before in league history. What’s also historic and equal parts controversial with this Bridges deal is the high-level compensation the Knicks dealt away to get it done. Never before has a package of 6-to-7 picks been sent away to acquire a player who’s never been named an All-Star. In fact, Bridges’ highest individual accolade to this point in his career has been a All-Defensive First Team selection in 2022 (and a Defensive Player of The Year second-place finish that same season).

You can’t put a price on fit, however — especially in today’s NBA. That is assuredly the Knicks’ line of thinking with not just this deal, but also with their huge money, 5 year, $212.5 million re-signing of Anunoby the very next day. With both Bridges and Anunoby in the long-term fold, the Knicks now have two premier two-way wings fit to go up against the likes of Tatum & Jaylen Brown in Boston. Bridges in particular should fit seamlessly into the Knicks’ scheme and provide the one thing Brunson and Randle were missing as the pilots of the Knicks’ offense: a third shot creator and offensive hub to help take the pressure off the two usage-heavy All-NBA co-stars.

Assuming the Knicks can also retain coveted, versatile big man Isaiah Hartenstein in free agency, the Knicks will boast an impressive squad laden with continuity across the board.

As impressive as the Knicks' offseason has been thus far, New York still covets Isaiah Hartenstein -- but there's no indication to this point that he'll return.

It’s not lost on me that there hasn’t been a repeat NBA champion since 2018. If you take a close look at each of the last four NBA champions in particular: the 2021 Bucks, the 2022 Warriors, the 2023 Nuggets and this season’s Celtics — you’ll find that the combination of star power, high-level role players, and, yes, continuity, paved the way for each squad's successes. The Knicks are in this position of power almost solely due to the rise of Jalen Brunson as a top 5-10 NBA star, and they’ve proceeded to build around their star in grand fashion.

As DraftKings & FanDuel odds stand today, the Knicks are tied for the third-highest odds to win the 2025 NBA title — a sentence that seems silly to even type out considering the Knicks’ lackluster history before Leon Rose arrived. But their rise is legit, despite what various “Knicks for Clicks” contractors might say. New York certainly looks formidable on paper, and they probably aren’t done rounding out the edges as free agency hasn’t even started yet. Their front office pulled off some very sneaky moves during the draft to just inch below the aforementioned second apron tax line should Hartenstein return on a max of $18 million per season. If that all comes together, look out, Eastern Conference.

Sacré bleu! Frenchmen own the 2024 NBA Draft

Adam Silver and Zaccharie Rishacher, the Atlanta Hawks #1 pick in the 2024 Draft
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver shakes hands with the 1st overall pick of the '24 Draft: the young Zaccharie Risacher from France.

I honestly can’t blame NBA execs. After watching Victor Wembanyama’s generational-level rookie season, I would’ve staked special interest in French hoopers as a whole, too.

In all seriousness, the historic number of French prospects selected in this year’s draft is yet another testament to the great global growth of the game as a whole.

With the 1st overall pick, the Atlanta Hawks selected Zaccharie Risacher; a 6’9”, 19-year-old wing who has been compared to Harrison Barnes and other versatile forwards in the game. With the very next pick, the Wizards took fellow Frenchman Alex Sarr, a skilled 7-foot center. Tidjane Salaün, Pacôme Dadiet, and Melvin Ajinça were selected by the Hornets, Knicks, and Wizards respectively, making it a remarkable 5 players from France drafted in total.

The draft as a whole was widely viewed as unremarkable, though. The lack of clear-cut future superstars in the lottery took a lot of the air out of the proceedings as far as fans were concerned, and the addition of a televised second day for the first time in league history didn't do much to boost interest either. There were still a number of interesting moves that took place as far as I’m concerned:

  • The top two 2-way guards in the draft landed with two rebuilding Lone Star State rivals, with Kentucky’s Reed Sheppard going to the Houston Rockets and UConn two-time collegiate champ Stephon Castle joining Wemby in San Antonio.

  • College basketball’s two best bigs, UConn's Donovan Clingan (also a two-time collegiate champion) & Purdue's Zach Edey (a two-time NCAAB National Player of the Year), went 7th to the Blazers and 9th to the Grizzlies respectively. Sandwiched in-between was one of the most notable moves of the draft, as talented Kentucky combo guard Rob Dillingham was drafted by the Spurs and immediately shipped to the contending Minnesota Timberwolves for future draft compensation (in other words, the guys that San Antonio will get back are currently just starting middle school). Ah, those 2031 picks. In Dillingham, the Timberwolves acquire a springy scorer who should fit perfectly next to young superstar Anthony Edwards in due time. Due to the second apron, the Wolves were one of the more limited teams in the league in terms of their ability to add veteran talent to an already expensive roster this offseason. The most direct path to acquiring win-now talent was trading into the lottery, and they did just that in nabbing Dillingham.

College vets Donovan Clingan and Zach Edey were picked before and after Kentucky freshman Rob Dillingham, who winds up with the Wolves.

Picks 15, 16, and 17 saw three contender hopefuls each draft what I see as perfect fits to their rosters & overall situations.

The Miami Heat selected the ultra-talented, 7-foot Kel’El Ware from Indiana. Ware is a big that can block shots, rim roll, and hit threes with equal effectiveness; quintessential skills for the modern NBA big to possess. Ware in time should fit wonderfully with the Heat’s newly-minted and freshly-paid centerpiece Bam Adebayo in Miami’s frontcourt.

With the next pick, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Jared McCain from Duke. McCain led Duke to an Elite 8 appearance in this past season’s NCAA Tournament; you may know him better from his TikTok account.

In joining new teammates & all-stars Joel Embiid & Tyrese Maxey, McCain should fit in well in Philly, as he does not need the ball in his hands consistently to contribute to winning basketball.

At 17th overall, the Los Angeles Lakers were on the clock, as JJ Redick prepared to make his first ever draft selection as an NBA head coach. That selection turned out to be the most NBA-ready prospect in the entire draft: 23-year-old Dalton Knecht (pronounced like "connect") from Tennessee. In hindsight, it’s no shock Knecht was the route that Redick & crew chose to take with their first selection, as Knecht checked off most of the same boxes pre-draft that Redick himself checked off when JJ entered the draft out of Duke in 2006. Both men were fiery, sh*t-talking, super-competitive sharpshooters during their collegiate careers. And now, they’ll have to foster a special coach/player relationship quickly should the Lakers actually make the leap back to true contention this coming season. But taking a super pro-ready draftee to slot alongside the 31-year-old Anthony Davis & (potentially) the 39-year-old LeBron James isn’t a bad start. James is still eligible to become a free agent should he decline his $51M player option on June 29th, despite all indications pointing towards a return to the Lakers on a max contract.

Adam Silver and Lakers' draftee Dalton Knecht.
Adam Silver with the Lakers' top draft pick, Tennessee's Dalton Knecht.

Speaking of LeBron & LA, they weren't done making headlines.

LeBron, Bronny Poised To Make History

LeBron James and son Bronny James in 2023
Bronny James, son, and LeBron James, father, celebrate together on February 7th, 2023 when LeBron became the NBA's all-time leading scorer.

To date, there have only been two father-son tandems to ever play together on the same team in sports history. That historic distinction belongs to:

  • the Griffeys: Ken Sr. and Ken Jr., who played together on MLB’s Seattle Mariners in 1990. The two actually hit back-to-back HRs in a game that season, a feat that… will be very hard to replicate ever again.

  • the Howes: Father Gordie and sons Mark & Marty all played together on the NHL’s now-defunct Hartford Whalers in 1979-80, making the three the only father-son tandem (or trio) to play on the same team simultaneously in pro hockey history.

It has never happened in the NBA. But with the Lakers’ selection of ‘Bronny’ -- or as he's known on his birth certificate, LeBron James Jr. -- with the 55th pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, it seems like history is about to be made by LeBron James yet again.

LeBron has many accolades to his name through his 21-going-on-22-year NBA career. He’s won 4 championships, winning Finals MVP with 3 different franchises, the only man in history to do so. He’s also won 4 MVPs. He is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer at well over 40,000 points… and counting. In addition, James is the lone member of the 40K point, 10K rebound, 10K assist club. He has achieved a level of personal power never before seen by a player in the history of sports. With that, most figured that James would use that unprecedented level of leverage to achieve what may be his greatest personal feat: hooping professionally with his son.

Bronny James at USC in 2023.
Bronny James with USC basketball, December 2023.

Bronny, a 6’2”, 200+ lb guard out of USC, is a ‘3&D’ type prospect, drawing comparisons to the likes of DeAnthony Melton and Deuce McBride — two quality NBA role players at the guard spot. While Bronny has enjoyed obvious benefit throughout his upbringing due to his father’s status, tragedy nearly struck Bronny and the James family in July of 2023.

Bronny suffered cardiac arrest due to a congenital heart defect on July 24th, collapsing midway through a USC shootaround months before USC basketball's season opener. Bronny was able to recover days later, but the harrowing scare largely derailed what was supposed to be a promising freshman year on the court. Bronny never truly got going throughout the season and struggled on the way to a paltry 4.8 points-per-game average on just 37% shooting from the field (if you're generous like me and rounded up).

Those statistics are typically far from being NBA worthy. But the power of nepotism is unlike any other in this world. James still garnered plenty of interest from teams during the pre-draft process as he impressed at the Draft Combine. Some teams were interested, I'm sure, in Bronny just based off his game. But I'm also sure that most teams' interest in the kid was based in the desire to draw LeBron in with him -- James had long been rumored to desire playing with his son on whichever NBA team he landed on.

As I mentioned before, LeBron's able to become a free agent in a matter of days here, but when you look at everything in totality; why would he leave Los Angeles at this point? James has built a powerful production company in Uninterrupted. His family, including his beautiful wife Savannah and their two other children, daughter Zhuri and their other soon-to-be NBA-bound son Bryce, are all very comfortable in SoCal. And it just makes sense for LeBron to retire a Laker, doesn't it?

Perhaps if teams like the Knicks and Golden State Warriors -- teams that LeBron has expressed at least minor interest in joining in the past -- took a flier on Bronny on Thursday, LeBron might've left the Lakers for dead. Maybe. Alright, a strong-ass maybe. The strongest 'maybe' in the world, actually. No reason for James to do that, though, when you have that unprecedented level of leverage that I referenced earlier.

LeBron wanted Bronny on the Lakers, so he got Bronny on the Lakers. It was reported by ESPN analyst & former Golden St. GM Bob Myers that LeBron's agent (and day-one friend), CEO of Klutch Sports Rich Paul had threatened teams with an inkling of selecting Bronny that Bronny would opt to play in Australia instead of playing on any squad not named the Lakers. I personally would've loved to find out if that threat was legitimate or not, but it was enough to get Bronny to LA with his dad.

Back to that nepotism word. This is one of those moments where I'd like to remind everyone that two things can actually be true at once. Crazy, I know.

Is this Bronny situation a clear case of nepotism at play? Absolutely. Even Stevie Wonder can see that.

Sorry, Stevie.

Is a flagrant case of nepotism such as this one taking place at the center of the NBA Draft okay at the same time? Yes, also absolutely. Let me explain.

Just as ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski vocalized during the network's Day 2 Draft coverage amidst growing groans of Bronny's "privilege," nepotism has run rampant throughout the NBA for a long time.

Hell, I just brought up the resurgence of the New York Knicks earlier. Leon Rose had a closely cultivated relationship with Jalen Brunson, who himself had obvious closely cultivated relationships with Villanova teammates Josh Hart & Donte DiVincenzo that drew them to New York, and the potpourri of all those connections led to the recent acquisition of Mikal Bridges. Nepotism saved the New York Knicks, largely. And they're not alone; there have been countless examples of NBA nepotism throughout the years that I'm not going to spend time boring you with now.

The point remains, though. This Bronny/LeBron/Lakers situation is nothing entirely new if you've been paying attention.

What I would choose to highlight instead is the fact that this situation was even possible in the first place due to LeBron's historic longevity. He'll be entering his age-40 season when 2024-25 tips off, and he's still putting up top-flight superstar numbers despite his decline in athleticism, a testament to his insane work-ethic and basketball IQ. You have to be real old AND still really good at your craft to earn the opportunity to play professionally at the same time as your seed. It's an incredible story no matter your opinion on James and his career.

Jim Gray, LeBron James, and a young Bronny James.
Background: legendary reporter Jim Gray interviewing LeBron James on-court in the late-2000s. Foreground: a young Bronny James.

All-in-all, it's been a headline-filled start to the NBA offseason, days before it really gets on & poppin' when free agency officially opens. Situations like Paul George's with the LA Clippers & Klay Thompson's with the Warriors are still to be figured out -- those two in particular could even be related in the end.

Still much to figure out, and much more to discuss. Fasten those seatbelts.


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