It doesn't matter that only one team can win Le Loterie LeBron in May. It doesn't matter that finishing with the NBA's worst record gives the league doormat no more than a 25-percent chance to win those sweepstakes.
It doesn't even matter that the team with the worst record in the NBA has won the draft lottery exactly zero times since the New Jersey Nets scored Derrick Coleman way back in 1990.
The suspicion, nonsensical as it sounds, is that every bad team in the league is trying to tank its way to LeBron James in spite of all that. Funnier still, no one seems to have a problem with the suspicion.
That's because LeBron is that rare prospect that has everyone lusting. He has everyone talking, if not actually tanking, and the league's talent evaluators are almost unanimous.
|Scouts and GMs concur that LeBron James is as good as Tracy McGrady, left, and Kobe Bryant, right.|
Yes, they say, he's that good.
Or: Yes, LeBron justifies this ridiculous torrent of hoopla as much as any 17-year-old could.
And sometimes even: Yes, he's better than Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady at the same age.
You will finally get the chance to judge for yourself Thursday night on ESPN2, when the frequently hyped but widely unseen James is showcased for the nation at last. See if you can see some of the same things highlighted here by this cross section of general managers and scouting directors from around the league, which as a group submitted scant resistance to the idea that this is one of the most tantalizing draftees of all-time.
In a nod to the threat of league punishments for discussing any draft-eligible underclassman by name, the names of the team representatives shall remain anonymous:
Western Conference scouting director: "He would have been the No. 1 pick in last year's draft. That should give you an indication of what kind of talent he is. Of all the other high school kids who've come into the league in recent years, the thing that separates LeBron is that he's physically ready to play. He's strong. He's a manly 6-8, 225 (pounds).
"Having said that, he's able to get by on his physical ability right now. The question is, what happens when he can't just get by on physical ability alone? The mental side, the emotional side, those are unknowns. In high school, the only thing we're seeing is the physical ability. There were a lot of times in high school where Kobe didn't have to play his hardest and we see the same thing with LeBron. What happens when he has to turn it on?
"When Kobe had to turn it on, he did. You saw his desire to work hard and get better. He was willing to sacrifice. Those are unknowns with LeBron at his age. But skill-wise? He has the ability to be anything he wants. He has the passing skills to be a great point guard. He can be a two guard who gets his shot off the dribble. He has legit (small forward) size. His shot is the one element of his game that has been red-flagged, but he has been working on that. There's really nothing you can nit-pick."
Eastern Conference general manager: "He's got a great body. He knows how to score. He knows how to score on his own. He's athletic. And he can really pass the ball, which makes him different from a lot of high school kids. So there's no doubt he's worth all the attention. Your job is to pick out guys you think are going to be great, and there's a guy who's (labeled) 'great' every year, but LeBron is a little unusual. There's nobody on either side of basketball, college or pro, who doesn't think he's great. I don't have a problem saying he's as good as Kobe or McGrady, as long as you add 'at this age.' Once you start saying that he will be as good as those guys, you're cutting out a lot of work and dedication."
Western Conference scouting director: "Basketball-wise he's the best high school player I've ever seen, and I saw a lot of McGrady. He has a very rare combination of skills but also charisma off the court. He's so mature beyond his age. He handles all this attention amazingly well. Of course he's also just a super athlete, handles the ball like a point guard, makes decisions in the open floor. And he's playing on a team with basically nobody -- there's really only one other guy on his team who has a shot at a Division I scholarship.
"I saw his game last year with Oak Hill and he went toe-to-toe with Carmelo Anthony, who most people will tell you is another great player. The scoring was pretty much a wash (Anthony scored 34 points, James 36) but Carmelo had help. LeBron was all over the map. He made everybody on his team better.
"If you want to pinpoint a weakness in his game, it's shooting. But he's not terrible. That's an area to work on, but this kid plays hard and works hard. McGrady was known to be a bit of a showboat in high school. It wasn't a bad thing, but he cruised through some games. And physically McGrady was a string bean. LeBron is like an adult physically. He has the tools, and he just plays the right way."
||I hear people say shooting is his weak spot. It's his 'weaker' spot. He's probably an average shooter, but if you look at Michael Jordan when he came into the league, he was a very average shooter. Kobe was probably an average shooter, too, as a rookie. LeBron's got enough technique that I wouldn't worry about it. ”
||— Western Conference general manager
Eastern Conference scout: "I'm not saying he won't be better than Kobe and McGrady, but I can't say he's better than those players were at the same age. Those guys just knocked me out. It's something you can't define, it's just a gut feel you have, but I'm probably being a tougher grader because of all the hype. It's pretty clear that he's in the same class with them. And it's pretty clear that high school or overseas are the two places to go to get a star player today.
"I'm not in favor of it. I'd rather these guys would say in school. But the best guys don't go through the college system anymore. You have to get them out of high school or get them from another country. The problem with taking on a high school player is that, for the coach, you're dealing with a lot of things you don't normally deal with. And it takes up a lot of time. These kids don't even know how to keep a checkbook when they get to the NBA.
"The key is to remember that, even if you get LeBron James, it took Kobe three or four years. These kids don't instantly transform your franchise."
Western Conference general manager: "The hype is pretty justified. Looking at the way Yao Ming's playing, I don't know if LeBron would have gone first in the draft last year, but he's a 6-8 guy who can play point guard. He's a man among boys, a superstar in the making. I hear people say shooting is his weak spot. It's his 'weaker' spot. He's probably an average shooter, but if you look at Michael Jordan when he came into the league, he was a very average shooter. Kobe was probably an average shooter, too, as a rookie. LeBron's got enough technique that I wouldn't worry about it."
Eastern Conference general manager: "I'm very careful about dishing out too much praise for these young kids coming out of school, because I know it's going to be an adjustment no matter how good they are. But this kid looks like he could come in and play right away without missing a beat. LeBron is a phenomenal talent, probably the best I've ever seen coming out of high school. It's going to be interesting to eventually see him play with and against other great players (in the NBA), because obviously he's not getting challenged right now."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here You can watch LeBron in action Thursday Dec. 12 on ESPN2 -- followed by NEXT -- at 9 p.m. ET.