NBA

Los Angeles Lakers Begin the Quest for a 17th Championship by Completing the Trade for Anthony Davis

Pranav Ramasubramanian | June 30th, 2019

Rich Paul was hired as Anthony Davis‘ agent after Davis fired longtime agent Thad Foucher signaling that Anthony Davis was done with the Pelicans. Rich Paul represents some of the biggest players in the NBA, but none bigger than his biggest client LeBron James, who has been with him since Day 1. Davis has lost a substantial amount of money since signing with Klutch Sports, but Davis isn’t too worried about that.

Davis averaged a double-double this year with 26 and 12 trying to win games for the Pelicans. However, Anthony Davis also had to do what’s best for him by refusing to play in a lot of games for the Pelicans to risk any type of health problem. The Pelicans started out the season well, but eventually, the grueling Western Conference schedule caught up to them and they started losing a lot of games.

Pelicans Don’t Retain Playoff Core

DeMarcus Cousins‘ injury derailed the Pelicans shot at the NBA Finals in 2018, but they were still very good as they knocked off the Portland TrailBlazers in a sweep and pushed the Golden State Warriors to five games. Rajon Rondo looked amazing in Alvin Gentry’s system and was very comfortable with Anthony Davis, but Dell Demps made him feel underappreciated by offering him less money so he decided to go to the Los Angeles Lakers where he got nine million this year. Rondo’s ability to see the court and find teammates in the right spots for easy shot opportunities was heavily missed along with some of the scoring punch he provided. DeMarcus Cousins had an attitude issue and everyone knew it so after he tore his Achilles he expected a full max from the Pelicans, but Demps only budged for a two-year 40-million-dollar contract which Cousins declined because he felt like he was worth more long term deciding to sign a one-year minimum with the Warriors instead. Cousins also wasn’t happy Demps waited a long time to offer him a deal and seeing the state of how the Pelicans were being run he decided to get out while he could. Demps did sign Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton, but the on-court chemistry was unable to match what the Pelicans had earlier and the role players suffered from the low morale as well as their contributions in games were underwhelming. Anthony Davis was irked by the fact that the Pelicans just threw away a playoff core because he wanted to be put in a position to win championships, not draft lotteries.

Davis’ Trade Request Creates a Mess

Davis finally spoke up and demanded a trade 10 days before the trade deadline in February. The issue was that Dell Demps had no intentions of trading Anthony Davis before July because he believed his return would be significantly lower so he instead tried to use the Lakers as leverage to try and get a bigger return from other teams. The timing of Anthony Davis’ trade request was very suspicious to Demps because it came almost right after he had dinner with LeBron James in Los Angeles. Demps decided to deal with only Magic Johnson knowing about Rob Pelinka’s history as an agent and Johnson put Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac, Josh Hart, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope along with multiple first-round picks on the table. Demps countered with more knowing the Lakers would pull out to screw their chances at Davis even though he just ended up getting himself fired.

Anthony Davis made it clear that he wouldn’t re-sign with any other team other than the Los Angeles Lakers so no one was willing to offer too much for him in February keeping him in New Orleans until the summer.

Lakers Season Crumbles

LeBron was supposed to come to Los Angeles and turn the young core into young men, but a groin injury knocked him out for 18 games leaving them to fend for themselves. The young core of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma played well but lost many games because they couldn’t close well. The trade deadline drama also made the team feel like trade bait affecting their psyche on a major level. When LeBron James did come back he was asked to do way too much in a tough Western Conference with the young core suffering injuries and LeBron couldn’t give the Lakers that final push they needed to get into the playoffs. It showed LeBron that maybe the young core wasn’t ready for the spotlight and this group wasn’t cut out to compete for championships when they couldn’t even make the playoffs. LeBron may be a great teammate, but when bend comes to break he will always be looking to do what’s best for his career and chasing the ghost in Chicago is his No.1 priority till he retires.

Celtics Standoffish Approach

The nightmare of a season finally came to an end for the Boston Celtics when the Milwaukee Bucks eliminated the Celtics in the second round in five games. Danny Ainge had created the perfect rebuild with a nice mix of youth and veterans with players like Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier, but the egos got the best of them as many of the younger players felt as if they were as good as the veterans leading to a lack of chemistry. The lack of chemistry showed on the court as everyone tried to isolate and play one on one rather than playing team basketball, which led to their downfall. The downfall comes with an ultimate price with Kyrie Irving alienating his teammates and himself from the mess. Irving is likely to leave Boston in free agency for the Brooklyn Nets on a four-year 141-million-dollar contract. Ainge’s decade long chase of Anthony Davis came to a halt because he couldn’t offer Tatum like he had previously promised because he didn’t want to lose two great talents in the same summer.

Tatum was the dealbreaker because of what the Lakers were offering and once Ainge pulled him off the table the Celtics were out focusing on other free agents to put them back in playoff position.

The Draft Lottery Works Wonders

After the mess at the trade deadline involving former Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and former Pelicans GM Dell Demps, it looked like New York was the frontrunner for Davis because of their draft picks. The Lakers had a 2.8% shot at landing a top four draft pick. They were able to get the 4th pick in the draft, which was the needed value for them to put together a good trade package. The Pelicans were also riding high because they had landed the No.1 pick, which meant they had landed their Anthony Davis replacement in Zion Williamson. Newly hired Pelicans GM David Griffin was ready to move past the Anthony Davis saga and go towards a new chapter so he was willing to trade him before July. Pelinka knew that he didn’t have to offer too much so he tried to lowball the Pelicans, but that didn’t work. It turned out Kyle Kuzma was quite the lucky charm for the Lakers.

Warriors Get Dethroned From Within

It wasn’t just the Warriors losing that caused the Lakers to immediately pull the plug on their young talent rather it was how they lost. The Warriors looked well on their way to a three-peat with everyone healthy and even though they weren’t blowing everyone out they had the clear experience advantage. The injury bug that had helped the Warriors get through opponents for championships finally came back to bite them as Kevin Durant injured his right calf in Game Five against the Rockets in the second round forcing him to sit until the NBA Finals. The Splash Brothers seemed to figure things out in the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors until it was just a Splash Brother after Klay Thompson had a mild hamstring strain knocking him out for Game Three giving the Raptors back the edge in the series. The Raptors stole both games in Oracle to take a 3-1 lead, but Kevin Durant’s return had the Warriors thinking comeback. Unfortunately for the Warriors when Kevin Durant tried to make a move on Serge Ibaka he ruptured his right Achilles tendon knocking him out for the rest of the series and next year. However, the Warriors escaped Game Five with a win after Kyle Lowry‘s game-winner was blocked by Draymond Green.

The Warriors were playing well in Game Six until disaster struck again. Klay Thompson went up for a dunk and was fouled by Danny Green, but when he landed, he landed awkwardly on his left leg immediately grabbing it. Thompson pleaded to stay in the game, but after shooting his free throws he was taken to the locker room and it was announced that he had torn his ACL in his left knee. The Raptors took advantage of this to win the NBA Finals and steal the three-peat from the Warriors to get their first-ever world championship.

The two injuries estimated timetables mean that if Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson return to the Warriors next year they will be out for most of it recovering. After five years the Western Conference is wide-open and the Lakers know if they are aggressive in getting superstars to LA then they have the chance to get back to winning the Laker way.

Lakers Finally Pull the Trigger

Rob Pelinka was under massive pressure after Magic Johnson stepped down because he was now assuming full responsibilities of the Lakers and after a bad season he needed to put the Lakers back in a position to make the playoffs. David Griffin and the Pelicans were hesitant to pick up Rob Pelinka’s call picking up only on the fourth call because they thought that Pelinka would lowball them. The Lakers wanted to keep Kyle Kuzma, but the rest of the young core was put on the table for the Pelicans to take and if the Pelicans kept waiting they would lose that offer along with their leverage because of other teams pulling out of the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. The Pelicans weren’t pleased until Pelinka put three first round picks on the table to which the Pelicans immediately accepted. The Washington Wizards came in as a third team vying for young talent so they were willing to help the Lakers take some players off of their hands.

The Lakers have successfully found a way to pair LeBron James with another superstar to give him the help he needs to terrorize the West this upcoming season.

Fit with “The King”

LeBron has always had a great power forward play alongside him whether it be Chris Bosh in his Miami Heat days or Kevin Love in his days as a Cavalier, but that hasn’t always been good news for the power forward. Obviously being on a team with LeBron James means you will be a No. 2 option sacrificing touches along with points as both Love and Bosh were marginalized to No. 3 options that were good spot-up shooters. LeBron James was younger on those teams and was able to do everything on a higher level, but now he conserves himself in the regular season to stay ready in the playoffs so he will be more than willing to run more pick and rolls for Anthony Davis to get him going so he can rest.

LeBron will likely sit out some games due to load management so Davis will be the No.1 focus in those games easily putting up big numbers. Davis will also sit for some games that LeBron plays in so he can manage his load as well. Davis will likely look to play in the post mainly trying to get to the rim and physically dominate opposing big men while stretching the floor out with perimeter shots when he gets good looks.

Pelicans New Nucleus

The Pelicans went from paying marginal players big money to having one of the best young cores in the entire league with talent across the board. This trade netted them three players under the age of 25 in Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram, which means they have a long time to develop them into good contributors or superstars. On the defensive side of the ball, Lonzo Ball can use his size and long arms to block shots or get steals while Hart brings intensity and effort. Ball’s passing ability helps him get the ball to his teammates even if they are all the way down the court so expect to see highlight plays, as well as Ball, making the smart play night in and night out. Ingram needs to get bulkier to be able to really push opposing offensive players, but if he’s clicking from the perimeter offensively it will more than make up for that minor flaw. Now when you add Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes you have one of the best young cores in the NBA that could help them become a very lethal team in the future.

The Pelicans are also favored to land veteran center Al Horford, who despite his age can still play decent minutes. David Griffin should pat himself on the back as in a short amount of time he has taken one of the worst situations in the NBA and turned it around in just 2 months something not many other GMs are capable of.

The Injury History

This is an issue across the board for both the Pelicans and the Lakers, but the biggest issue may be for the New Orleans Pelicans. Anthony Davis has been injury prone his whole career since 2013 with 31 injuries over six years and has only played in 70-plus games in two of those seasons. Davis has gotten better with it over the years so with less of the load on him he should be fine on the Lakers as long as he doesn’t apply too much pressure on himself and his body.

Brandon Ingram was playing great in the second half of the season until he started feeling shoulder pain, which was later diagnosed as venous thrombosis in his right arm knocking him out for the rest of the year. The long term concern with this injury is that if it happens again it will end Ingram’s career as it ended Chris Bosh’s as blood clots are a serious issue. The other former Laker with major injury issues is Lonzo Ball, who missed 35 games because of a left ankle sprain, but it’s also the second straight year he’s had a major injury. Ball believes his injury issues to be because of the Big Baller Brand shoe so he’s likely switching his shoe to Nike, but if it continues happening after the switch then the Pelicans would have to look for other point guard options. The risk of taking two injury prone players is big, but the Pelicans know if they are patient the results will be great. The Pelicans also can’t attract big-time free agents so this is their only option to really build the team.

Free Agency Impact

Anthony Davis will be making 27.1 million dollars this year after waiving his trade kicker of 4 million dollars so that he can help the Los Angeles Lakers go after a max player in free agency. The Washington Wizards helped the Los Angeles Lakers by being the third team in this deal acquiring Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, and Jemerrio Jones along with a 2022 second round pick so the Lakers could clear up 8 million in cap space. The Lakers now have 32 million in cap space so they can use it to go after a max free agent like Kawhi Leonard or surround LeBron and Davis with good role players.

LeBron and Davis have been in contact with several NBA players about coming to play with them in Los Angeles hoping to sell the Lakers as a couple of pieces away from a championship. Rajon Rondo might be resigned because of his great chemistry with Davis and that could help Davis get used to a new offensive system by having a familiar teammate in Rondo. The Lakers current Plan B option if they don’t land Kawhi Leonard is D’Angelo Russell, who would be reunited with the Lakers after the Lakers traded him away to unload Timofey Mozgov‘s contract. The Lakers have also reached out to the representatives of Patrick Beverley and Seth Curry to set up meetings as the Lakers need to fill up the roster because of the fact that they currently have only four players under contract for the 2019-2020 season.

New head coach Frank Vogel likes fluidity in his offensive system meaning that players must move around a lot and move the ball with less one on one isolation instead using a variety of different ball screens to create the desired shot on offense.

The New York Knicks have their eyes set on Davis in 2020 so if the Lakers turn out to be a bad fit for Davis then he could jump to another big market team in New York to try and help them win the East. Davis is being embraced in LA as there was a mural painted for him and LeBron cast him in Space Jam 2 to help him have some fun in the offseason. James has also graciously offered Anthony Davis his #23 jersey number to keep Davis comfortable so they can just worry about on the court stuff. The Lakers have shifted into a win-now mode to take full advantage of LeBron James’ last good years and their strategy has paid off so far putting them in prime position for a third superstar. The Lakers will be the new superteam of the West if they use their cap space the right way and be heavily favored to win many championships in the forthcoming years. Things are now looking up in La La Land after a season of disarray and bad luck.

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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images

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