For months, the signs were unmistakable that Anthony Davis wanted to play for the Los Angeles Lakers and that they badly want him to be here. It was not a coincidence that Davis changed representatives and signed with agent Rich Paul, who also represents LeBron James.
There was a purpose behind James speaking publicly about how great it would be to play with Davis. Then, any remaining uncertainty was laid to rest with the announcement that Davis, who is under contract through next season, wants to be traded now and will not re-sign with the New Orleans Pelicans under any circumstances.
The timing of the announcement was well planned. The other major suitor for Davis with attractive assets to spare, the Boston Celtics, are unable to trade for him until July because of an obscure NBA rule that prohibits the trade while Kyrie Irving is still on his current contract.
Thus, the demand was timed to give the Lakers a clear path to get the deal done by Thursday’s trade deadline, before Boston can enter the bidding.
The Pelicans are being coy, publicly saying they are in no hurry to trade Davis. But there are signs which suggest otherwise.
The team removed Davis from their Twitter banner and from pregame hype video played for fans in the arena. There have been whispers that Davis has played his last game in a Pelicans uniform, that they might sit Davis for the rest of the season even if he is not traded right away.
The question is, can the Lakers and Pelicans complete a trade by the Feb. 7 deadline, and what will it take on the Lakers’ part to get the deal done?
Their fans have been here before.
Two seasons ago, Paul George made it clear he wanted to be traded to the Lakers. Reportedly the Indiana Pacers wanted Brandon Ingram included in any trade package but the Lakers refused. So the Pacers traded George to the Oklahoma City Thunder instead.
When he became a free agent a year later, George re-signed with the Thunder and shunned the Lakers, explaining that if they truly wanted him they would’ve made the trade the year before.
Then last summer, it was Kawhi Leonard’s turn to demand a trade. There were signs that he wanted to come to the Lakers. Again, it was reported that the front office would not include Ingram and other members of the young core in the package, and Leonard was shipped to Toronto instead.
It remains to be seen what he does this summer in free agency, but reports are he has cooled on the Lakers.
Several other top players have changed teams in recent years. In addition to George and Leonard, the Lakers stood by and watched as stars like Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozan, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul switched uniforms. It appears that at long last the front office is ready to engage.
While it could change, it is reported that none of the top free agents next summer are seriously thinking of joining the purple and gold. Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson previously guaranteed he would acquire a second superstar by the summer.
If free agency does not look promising, the Lakers will have to get said player via trade.
So the Lakers are “all in” to get Davis by the trade deadline, but is there such a thing as paying too much where Davis is concerned? There have been contradictory reports of who the Lakers have offered so far.
It was first reported that the starting bid was Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac and a first-round draft pick. That was a bitter pill to swallow, but at least the Lakers would retain Ingram and Josh Hart.
Then it was reported the Lakers have offered Ball, Kuzma, Zubac, a first-round pick and Ingram for Davis. Ball, Zubac and Ingram are only 21. Although they have a long way to go, imagine the players they will be four years from now when they are still only 25?
The Lakers gave up very quickly on D’Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the 2015 Draft. He was frequently injured during his first three seasons in the league, but this year he has been healthy and has enjoyed a break-out season. He was just added to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and he is still only 22 years old.
The Lakers also gave up on Julius Randle, and he too has taken a huge step forward this season. The team got nothing in return for allowing Randle to leave. Imagine if the Philadelphia 76ers had given up on Joel Embiid after he missed the entirety of his first two seasons and played sparingly in year three?
When the team signed James, it became all about winning today. Davis has been in New Orleans for six seasons, and despite his immense talent, he’s had minimal playoff success and he has often been injured.
He and James are a great start but can’t do it by themselves. This past year’s draft picks do not look like much, so making this trade would leave the Lakers with almost nothing other than James and Davis.
The scary part is that the Lakers will likely to have to overpay to induce the Pelicans to do a trade right now. The Pelicans’ season was not going well, and it was ruined for good by Davis’ desire to flee. Thus, New Orleans really could wait until summer to move Davis. Logically, the only reason to do the trade now is if the Lakers make an offer they can’t refuse.
Still, the Lakers should not give up all three of Ball, Kuzma and Ingram. The preference should be to retain Kuzma, who is the best fit with James and Davis. Despite the fact he was drafted lower than Ball and Ingram, Kuzma is the best and most charismatic of the Lakers young players so it is inevitable that the Pelicans would not make the trade without him.
In fact, the one constant in all the trade rumors has been Kuzma and Ball, so the Lakers must know those are the players the Pelicans covet most. If so, the Lakers need to keep Ingram and hold onto Zubac, Hart or both.
Zubac is younger and has a higher ceiling, but Hart is one of those tough players defensively who can knock down shots. Hart has arguably been the most disappointing of the young core this season, but he has been playing through knee tendinitis.
Of course, the Lakers should also offer virtually anyone else on their roster right now to round out the package. Michael Beasley and Rajon Rondo have been mentioned in the latest trade rumors. They should not hesitate to part with a first-round draft pick if it means keeping another young player, since the pick will not be that high in any event.
If they can part with Ingram and Ball only, while keeping Kuzma, Hart and Zubac, they should be willing to give up two first-round draft picks.
No matter how it ends, this process will come to a head in the next few days. There was initial skepticism that the Pelicans would move so quickly, but the best guess right now is that a trade will happen. The front office of the Lakers is under a lot of pressure to get it done but let’s just hope they don’t give away the entire farm.
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