Anthony Davis trade: Pelicans capitalize on Lakers bearing the burden of protecting LeBron James' legendary legacy
David Griffin helps set up New Orleans for sustained success with Zion Williamson and the running mates coming from L.A.
Picture Lonzo Ball firing one of his full-court outlet passes to Zion Williamson for one of his thunderous dunks. Picture Williamson grabbing a rebound, rumbling down the floor and lobbing the ball to Brandon Ingram for an alley-oop. This is the future of the New Orleans Pelicans, who to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday for Ball, Ingram, Josh Hart and three (!) first-round picks, including the No. 4 selection in this year's NBA Draft, which is five days away. (Pick-swapping is also reportedly involved.) The Anthony Davis era is over, and the Pelicans might be in the best position they've ever been.
In New Orleans, the trio of former Lakers will be freed from the expectations, drama and dysfunction that made their 2018-19 season so strange. In a way, they will be picking up where they left off in 2017-18, before LeBron James chose Los Angeles and changed everything. Under Luke Walton, those Lakers were young, fun and better than they had any right to be on defense. They only won 35 games, but that shouldn't stop the Pelicans from thinking much bigger.
At his introductory press conference, New Orleans vice president David Griffin talked about playing the long game and setting the franchise up for sustained success. "You want to build something that lasts," he said, making it clear that he hoped Davis would want to be a part of it, but the franchise would move on if need be. The Pelicans have turned the page elegantly, with the help of a trade partner that was desperate not to waste another year of a legendary career.
For three years, Griffin lived in the world the Lakers inhabit now. "You're basically charged with the legacy of Babe Ruth," Griffin told Michael Lee, then of Yahoo Sports, in 2017, calling this a "sacred trust" that James had given him. Griffin's front office in Cleveland felt immense responsibility to field a championship contender, and it did not have the luxury of slow, future-focused roster-building. His front office in New Orleans is now the beneficiary of Los Angeles feeling that pressure. In the absence of any assurance that other stars would join James in free agency, the Lakers needed to get Davis, even if it meant the Pelicans would get a huge haul in return.
If Ingram's health isn't a long-term issue, then he is the main prize, a 21-year-old forward with length and upside for days who can score from all over the place and run pick-and-rolls. Ball will team with Jrue Holiday to form one of the league's best defensive backcourts, and his style jibes with coach Alvin Gentry's penchant for pushing the pace. Along with the former No. 2 picks, Hart has shown promise on both ends, and he could be more of a playmaker in New Orleans as a sixth man. The three draft picks in the deal make this one of the more impressive returns in a star-driven trade in recent memory, especially if the next few years don't go as planned for Los Angeles.
Thanks to some lottery luck and LeBron's Lakers, Griffin is in an ideal rebuilding situation. The Pelicans have enough young talent that they don't have to tank, and they have flexibility to make more moves. Williamson, who will officially become their franchise player on Thursday, would have made any team an intriguing League Pass watch on his own. This team could be pretty competitive, too.
There is no consensus No. 4 pick in this year's draft, and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that New Orleans is already listening to trade offers. Maybe Griffin will decide that Jarrett Culver is his guy. I wonder, though, if the Atlanta Hawks, who own the Nos. 8, 10 and 17 picks, might be interested in moving up. The important thing here is that New Orleans has options, and in a broader sense that will remain true for some time.
Beyond the summer of 2020, when the contracts of Solomon Hill and and E'Twaun Moore expire, the Pelicans do not have any money on the books aside from Holiday's 2020-2021 player option. They can try to ink Ingram to a team-friendly extension, and if that doesn't work, they can wait and see what happens in restricted free agency. Unlike his time with the Cavs, Griffin can watch this group grow without all the tension that comes with a Finals mandate. A Davis-Williamson-Holiday trio would have been exciting, but this pivot to building around youth is clarifying. In New Orleans, the next few years will be about establishing a culture, developing an identity and trying to become the NBA's next great team.
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