Jazz stars picked last in NBA All-Star draft; LeBron says ‘no slander’
Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert of the NBA-leading Utah Jazz were the last two players selected in the draft for Sunday’s All-Star Game, and their availability led to an odd sequence near the end of the telecast that aired Thursday night on TNT.
The actual draft was conducted Wednesday with captain LeBron James picking for Team LeBron and captain Kevin Durant selecting for Team Durant to fill the rosters for the Sunday contest in Atlanta.
James of the Los Angeles Lakers had the first overall pick due to receiving the most All-Star Game votes (roughly 5.9 million), and he selected two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Durant (5.6 million votes), who is injured and won’t play in the game, tabbed Brooklyn Nets teammate Kyrie Irving with his first choice.
The draft continued and each team had 11 players on the roster when TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley chimed in about the Jazz (27-9), and the festivities took an odd twist.
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“They have the best record in the NBA and their best two players are the last two standing,” Barkley said. “This is slander, this is slander America.”
The next choice belonged to Durant, and he chose Mitchell, Utah’s high-scoring guard. That left James with two-time Defensive Player of the Year Gobert to fill out the roster.
Suddenly, James delivered a remark that is sure be remembered should the Lakers and Jazz meet in the postseason this year.
“There is no slander to the Utah Jazz,” James said. “You guys have to understand just like in video games growing up, we never played with Utah. Even with as great as Karl Malone and John Stockton were, we would never pick those guys in video games. Ever.”
The rest of the draft was far less dramatic than the ending.
James selected Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic to start alongside himself and Antetokounmpo.
Joining Irving in Team Durant’s starting lineup are Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum.
Tatum is the replacement in the starting lineup for Durant, who is out due to a hamstring injury.
Durant had the first pick of the reserves and selected Nets teammate James Harden. James was just fine with that, as he wanted Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard. He pointed at this watch and said, “I’m going to go with Dame Time.”
The other reserves on Team LeBron are Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons, Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George, Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis and Gobert.
The other backups for Team Durant are Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, New York Knicks forward Julius Randle, Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic and Mitchell.