The drama that followed James Harden in the final moments leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline was nothing like the drama that followed him in the All-Star Draft later that very same afternoon.
There was tension and intrigue and plenty of suspense involving both events… but the draft had lots more humour and sniggering.
LeBron James could barely conceal his amusement – needing a clipboard to hide his face at point – with Harden still on the board, falling and suspiciously ignored by his now-former Nets teammate Kevin Durant as the two chose sides.
There were three players left when LeBron, egged on by Charles Barkley and the rest of the Inside The NBA crew on the live show, selected Fred VanVleet, leaving Durant to choose between Harden and Rudy Gobert. Durant was squarely on the spot.
Barkley chimed in on Harden, pretending to read Durant’s mind: “You don’t want to play with me? Take your a** over there.”
LeBron doubled over.
So, of course, Durant chose Gobert.
“Im’ma need some size,” Durant explained sheepishly.
“When someone wants out, you let ’em go. I’m with you, KD,” added Barkley.
Durant was noticeably stoic and short-answered with regard to his opinions about Harden and the blockbuster trade between the Nets and Sixers. Brooklyn had no choice but to deal Harden, who evidently no longer wanted to be with the Nets, leaving without playing a full season for the club. The Nets, built to win a title now, received Ben Simmons and other pieces in return but there’s no indication whether Simmons will suit up this season.
“I’m excited,” said Durant, who did not look excited.
Then he cryptically added this: “Everybody got what they wanted.”
And this: “Happy we got guys who want to be a part of this.”
Judging by Durant’s refusal to “draft” Harden – they were teammates once in Oklahoma City and by all accounts good friends – or express sadness with the trade, it left the impression that Durant wanted to cut ties with the former MVP in every way possible.
In a coincidental twist, it was Harden who ran interference between Durant and Russell Westbrook five years ago at All-Star Weekend. Durant and Westbrook weren’t speaking and had bad blood following Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City to the Warriors, yet found themselves once again teammates, this time for the All-Star Game.
Any drama between the two ex-teammates won’t spill over into All-Star Sunday, though. Durant won’t compete against Harden in Cleveland at this All-Star Game; Durant’s injured and won’t play.
LeBron is unbeaten at 4-0 in All-Star play as a captain, and once again stockpiled his team impressively. Counting himself, there’s a combined 10 MVPs in his rotation, and unlike Durant, LeBron will actually start and play in the game.
He chose Giannis Antetokounmpo with the first pick, calling Giannis “the hardest-playing player in All-Star history.” LeBron filled out his starting five with Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan and reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.
“We got some size, some shooting, some slashers, some passers,” LeBron said.
When LeBron also chose 36-year-old Chris Paul, Barkley couldn’t resist taking a dig at LeBron and the struggling Lakers: “That will help with diversity. He got someone (else) old on his team now.”
Durant’s team is much lighter in the MVP count – actually, none have won the award – but Durant seemed pleased with the results. He chose Joel Embiid (a leading MVP candidate this season) with his first pick and added Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, Trae Young and Andrew Wiggins to the starting lineup.
Other than Jokic, LeBron doesn’t have a natural center on his team. He’s loaded with playmakers, with himself, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, Darius Garland, Curry, VanVleet and Harden. Most of the size is with Team Durant, with Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert.
This was the second time in three All-Star drafts that Harden was snubbed. In 2020, Giannis was a team captain and he took Kemba Walker instead of Harden because Giannis wanted someone “that’s going to pass it.”
That decision was done 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, from 1am in the morning.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism