The drama that followed James Harden in the closing moments leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline was nothing like the drama that followed him in the All-Star Draft later that same afternoon.
There was tension and intrigue and a lot of suspense related to both events… but the draft had a lot more humor and chuckle.
LeBron James could barely hide his amusement—he needed a clipboard to hide his face at that point—with Harden still on the board, falling and suspiciously ignored by his now former Nets teammate Kevin Durant as the two took sides.
There were three players left when LeBron, spurred on by Charles Barkley and the rest of the Inside The NBA crew during the live show, selected Fred VanVleet, forcing Durant to choose between Harden and Rudy Gobert. Durant was right on the spot.
Barkley fell in on Harden, pretending to read Durant’s mind, “You don’t want to play with me? Go over there.”
So of course Durant chose Gobert.
“I need a mate,” Durant explained sheepishly.
“If someone wants out, you let them go. I’m with you, KD,” Barkley added.
Durant was remarkably stoic and curt in his views on Harden and the blockbuster trade between the Nets and Sixers. Brooklyn had no choice but to settle Harden, who apparently no longer wanted to be with the Nets, and leave without playing a full season for the club. Built to win a title now, The Nets received Ben Simmons and other pieces in return, but there’s no indication that Simmons will fit this season.
“I’m excited,” Durant said, looking unexcited.
Then he added cryptically, “Everyone got what they wanted.”
And this: “Glad we have guys who want to be a part of this.”
Judging by Durant’s refusal to “trot” Harden—they were once Oklahoma City teammates and most likely close friends—or express grief over the trade, it gave the impression that Durant was cutting ties to the former MVP in every way. wanted to break.
Coincidentally, it was Harden who caused the interference between Durant and Russell Westbrook at All-Star Weekend five years ago. Durant and Westbrook didn’t speak and had bad blood after Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City to the Warriors, but became teammates again, this time for the All-Star Game.
However, any drama between the two ex-teammates will not spill over into All-Star Sunday. Durant will not compete against Harden in Cleveland in this All-Star Game; Durant is injured and does not want to play.
LeBron is undefeated 4-0 in the All-Star game as captain and has once again built an impressive stock for his team. Including himself, he has a combined 10 MVPs in his rotation, and unlike Durant, LeBron will actually start and play in the game.
He picked Giannis Antetokounmpo with the first pick, calling Giannis “the hardest playing player in All-Star history.” LeBron filled his base five with Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan and reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.
“We’ve got some size, some shooting, some slashers, some passers-by,” LeBron said.
When LeBron also chose 36-year-old Chris Paul, Barkley couldn’t resist challenging LeBron and the struggling Lakers: “That will help with diversity. He’s got someone (else) old on his team now.”
Durant’s team is much lighter in the number of MVPs – in fact no one has won the award – but Durant seemed pleased with the results. He chose Joel Embiid (a leading MVP candidate this season) as his first pick, adding Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, Trae Young and Andrew Wiggins to the starting lineup.
Other than Jokic, LeBron doesn’t have a natural centerpiece in his team. He is full of playmakers, including himself, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, Darius Garland, Curry, VanVleet and Harden. Most of it is with Team Durant, with Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert.
This was the second time in three All-Star drafts that Harden had been dismissed. In 2020 Giannis was team captain and took Kemba Walker instead of Harden because Giannis wanted someone “who is going to make it”.
That decision was made with a bit of playfulness.
The look on Durant’s stone face said it all.
Watch the 2022 NBA All-Star game live on Sky Sports on the night of Sunday, February 20, starting at 1 AM.