Bronny James' realistic professional options and his likely path of development

Over the weekend, reports surfaced that Bronny James, the oldest son of Lakers superstar LeBron James, could stay another year at USC to work on his development and improve his draft stock. Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul provided some clarity Saturday night and told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski that Bronny's decision would be based on team interest, not projected draft stock.

Bronny has gone through much adversity during his freshman year at USC. He suffered cardiac arrest in August and underwent heart surgery before the season. By all accounts, he's had a successful return to the court with no lingering issues. The team has struggled this season after starting the season ranked inside the Associated Press Top 25. The Trojans entered Thursday 12-17 and second to last in the Pac-12.

For those just looking at the boxscore after each game, James isn't exactly jumping off the page as a one-and-done prospect. The 6-foot-3 guard is currently averaging 5.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 19.5 minutes per game, leading many to assume he should stay at USC another year or more to develop.

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LeBron has said multiple times that he hopes to play with his son in the NBA. In 2022, James told Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, “My last year will be played with my son. Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year. It’s not about the money at that point.”

It was always assumed Bronny to the Lakers was the goal, but Paul said Saturday that “LeBron wants Bronny to be his own man.”

The 39-year-old James is in his 21st season and just became the first player in NBA history to score 40,000 career points. He has hinted at retirement but admits there is no plan yet for what that looks like.

"I have not mapped out how many seasons I have left, I know it's not that many," James told reporters before the All-Star Game. "I am a Laker, and I am happy and been very happy being a Laker the last six years, and hopefully it stays that way. But I don't have the answer to how long it is or which uniform I'll be in. Hopefully, it is with the Lakers. I don't know how it's going to end, but it's coming. It's coming, for sure."

How do these statements fit in with Bronny, his lackluster year at USC and his projection as an NBA player? The big thing: Bronny will continue to develop his game, whether that's another year or two at USC or with an NBA franchise, most likely in the G League. He's a workhorse. He has all the tools and resources at his disposal to get the best training, best recovery and learn the game from one of the greatest to ever play.

Bronny will most likely do what countless other college and international players do each spring and test the NBA waters, receiving feedback from NBA teams and going through the pre-draft process. NBA scouts are already doing their due diligence, gathering background intel and scouting Bronny. He's a great perimeter defender, he has his dad's athleticism and reads the pick-and-roll well off the wing. In high school he was the complementary piece to ball-dominant guards, and scouts recognized early during the McDonald's All American Game and Nike Hoop Summit that he has a high IQ and has a natural feel for the game.

"He plays the right way and has a 3-point game that translates," one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports last April. "He's a hell of a defender, and you can see he's started to grow into his body a little more."

Bronny is a player who doesn't need the ball in his hands to positively impact the game. It's the little things he does on the court that scouts are watching and those things will work at the NBA level, whether that's making the extra pass, getting to his spots on offense or the way he can shoot the gap and recover off the switch. He projects more as a secondary role player who knows how to run the offense and has the shot mechanics to develop into a reliable shooter. He possesses characteristics as a young player that a lot of NBA veterans have.

There have been plenty of players with similar stat lines who have been drafted in the second round. Just last year, Paul's client, Chris Livingston, was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 58 pick. In his one year at Kentucky, Livingston averaged 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds, and he has spent his first season getting reps in the G League. Also in 2023, the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted UCLA's Jaylen Clark at No. 53. Clark tore his Achilles late last season, and the Timberwolves still drafted him on potential, knowing they would have to wait an entire season before he hits the court. There are plenty of examples over the years of NBA teams taking a prospect as a draft-and-stash player for further development.

It's also worth noting the Lakers have the 56th pick in the draft this year. By no means is it a guarantee that they will draft Bronny with that pick based solely on his father being the face of the franchise, but there will be conversations about Bronny at the team's highest level.

Paul made sure to note that Bronny's situation would be based on team fit. “I don’t value a young player getting into the lottery as much as I do getting him on the right team, in the right developmental situation,” Paul said.

Playing alongside his dad and staying close to home seems like an ideal situation.

There is still plenty of time for all of these decisions to be made. Bronny will finish his season with USC and go from there. Through every step of his young career, he has faced scrutiny at every turn and has found ways to quiet the noise, get better and compete. His next step, whatever that will be, will be no different.