Kevin Durant didn’t want to be part of James Harden the day their partnership in Brooklyn ended.
Durant continued to pass Harden in the NBA All-Star Draft until LeBron James had to take him on Thursday with the final pick, bringing a little comedy to the process.
James was the first pick among the players in the starting squad for the Feb. 20 game at Cleveland and drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo. Durant took on Joel Embiid, whose Philadelphia 76ers agreed to a trade with Brooklyn that sent Ben Simmons to the Nets.
Durant had the first pick from the reserves, along with Devin Booker of the NBA-leading Phoenix Suns. It meant James had the final choice and Durant made it clear who was going to be left for him.
With his latest selection, Durant took on Utah Jazz Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, explaining with a straight face that he needed size – even if defensive-minded players are hardly needed in an exhibition primarily focused on offense.
Holding a clipboard to his face to hide his laughter, James asked Durant if Harden was healthy enough to play. The three-time scoring champion and 2018 NBA MVP has missed the last three games with left hamstring strain.
“He was traded. He is healthy now,” replied TNT analyst Charles Barkley.
James also drafted former MVPs Stephen Curry and Nikola Jokic into the starting lineup, as well as Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan. Durant took debutants Ja Morant from Memphis and Andrew Wiggins from Golden State, and Jayson Tatum from Boston — who replaced him in the starters’ pool because Durant is injured and won’t play.
Team LeBron reserves: Luka Doncic, Dallas; Darius Garland, Cleveland; Chris Paul, Phoenix; Jimmy Butler, Miami; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Fred VanVleet, Toronto and Harden.
Durant team reserves: Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota; Zach LaVine, Chicago; Dejounte Murray, San Antonio; Khris Middleton, Milwaukee; LaMelo Ball, Charlotte and Gobert.
James has been captain every year since the NBA moved to a format where major draft teams get votes, instead of the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference. His teams are 4-0.
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