Anthony Davis trade: How the perception of the Lakers' big move doesn't match the reality
Did the Lakers give up too much to acquire Davis? Do they need a third max player to become a legit contender?
We finally have a resolution to the Anthony Davis saga in New Orleans. This situation left two organizations in flux through much of last season, likely cost one general manager (Dell Demps) his job and may have also been at least partially a catalyst for one team president (Magic Johnson) walking away.
We know where AD will be playing for the foreseeable future: the Lakers. After he was shipped to Los Angeles for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, three first-round picks and few future pick swaps, the Pelicans get their haul, LeBron gets his man and Rob Pelinka and David Griffin make their marks. The move has been discussed in every which way, the dominant topic of conversation for five days in the NBA news cycle.
That has left a lot of perceptions in the public eye about why this move was delayed, why it went down Saturday and what the two teams are planning moving forward. But perceptions are not always reality in sports, as in life. And that has been the case particularly for the Lakers' side of this deal.
Perception: The Lakers mortgaged their future and gave up too much for Anthony Davis.
Reality: Los Angeles did what was necessary to get its next franchise player.
History tells us that outside of the best player in franchise history, and a once-in-a-generation hybrid point guard the likes of which we had never seen in Magic Johnson, the Lakers tend to trade for or sign the players that lead them to a title. And, yes, for the people who argue that Kobe Bryant should also be in the conversation of the importance of the draft to the Lakers with Magic, remember he was acquired in a draft-night trade. Also, historically speaking, Kobe was the exception rather than the rule at pick No. 13. All-time greats just don't get drafted in that slot (Karl Malone notwithstanding).
Back to Kobe in a second. For the sake of this argument, any Lakers team not located in Los Angeles isn't in the conversation. The 1971-72 title team was absolutely loaded. And some would point to two names on that team, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor (Baylor only played nine games that year) as high draft picks. I counter with Wilt Chamberlain, who while being a shell of himself as a scorer, still averaged 19 rebounds per game. The Lakers traded for him in 1968. But maybe, more importantly, was Gail Goodrich, who the Lakers traded for in 1970, and was their leading scorer in the regular and postseason in 1971-72.
Fast forward to 1975 when the Lakers traded for the future leading scorer in NBA history (and still considered by some to be the best player ever), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem came first, then the Lakers drafted Magic, not the other way around. Kareem was the leading scorer on the first three title teams from the 80's and was a member of all five championship squads.
Fast forward again to 1996. Kobe Bryant is acquired by the Lakers in a draft-night trade. That same year the Lakers made the biggest free-agent signing to that point in the NBA when Shaquille O'Neal picked L.A. over Orlando. The rest is history, but who knows what becomes of Kobe Bryant and the Lakers if there is no Shaq free-agent signing.
And then there's LeBron; that story is still being written.
That's a long way of saying the Lakers don't need picks any more to get their next franchise player, they just got him. The reaction to the pick haul is overblown. Here's more on why …
Perception: The Lakers did this because they HAD to put a star next to LeBron.
Reality: This trade is less about LeBron and more about being relevant for the next 10 years.
Yes, they did need to find someone to put with LeBron so this team could compete. But they have money, and this year is one of the deepest free-agent classes ever. With the Warriors all but out of it next season, the West is wide open, and if you spent that money on the right players in free agency, LeBron James and two other max guys can compete in the 2019-20 Western Conference.
But they didn't just pull a trade for a max player, or a great player. They traded for a generational player at 26 years old. It's basically unheard of. The Lakers realistically have three more years of productive LeBron James. If they play their cards right and if Davis stays healthy (not as big of an if as we used to think with AD) they'll have a franchise-altering star for the next 8-10 years. What's more, now that he's been pulled out of a perpetual losing situation in New Orleans, Davis has a path to being recognized as the best player in the NBA in the next 2-3 years (if not sooner).
A few stats on Davis to this point in his career: Only two players in NBA history have averaged 23 points per game, 50 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3. One is LeBron James, the other is Anthony Davis. Player efficiency rating may not be perfect, but when you look at the all-time PER leaders you see a list of first ballot Hall of Famers that includes Anthony Davis in third place, right behind Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Since AD's second year in the league (2013-14), he's the only player averaging 25-plus points and 10-plus rebounds. Remember two seasons ago when Demarcus Cousins was injured, Davis went on a tear the league hadn't seen in decades. And this year, despite only playing 56 games and 33 minutes per game, he was still 14th in the NBA in win shares. The numbers tell a story of a player who's already a surefire top six or seven player in the NBA depending on who you ask.
And three years from now, when LeBron's deal is up, who's going to be ahead of Davis? LeBron will be 37, Kevin Durant will be 32 or 33 before he plays basketball again. Steph Curry will be 34. Kawhi Leonard will be 30 (but do robots age?). Giannis Antetokounmpo is younger than AD, but if his 3-point shot doesn't develop, it will tough to call him the best in the game.
All it will take is a couple of years of winning basketball. Not even championship basketball, just winning basketball, and Davis has a clear path to being the best player in the NBA. Think about Giannis' ascent over the past couple of years. Two years ago, the Bucks were a 44-38 team, and Giannis was considered a top-10 player by most. Now, the Greek Freak is the third- or fourth-best player in the league and considered by some to be No. 1. What was the major difference between last year and this year? For Giannis statistically, not much. His scoring went up by half a point, his rebounds by two and his assists by one. And while his field-goal percentage did get better, his 3-point percentage, the one area holding him back, went down considerably. But the Bucks won 60 games, with a few new pieces and a new coach who built a perfect system around the superstar. Point being, a change of scenery, a new system and new teammates and the Lakers may not have just landed their future, but the future best player in the world.
For that reason, they should be careful with their next move.
Perception: The Lakers should take their cap space if Anthony Davis waives his trade kicker and go for a third max player.
Reality: Even with AD waiving his trade kicker, they'd still need help to sign a max player ... and also don't necessarily need a third max star.
According to reports, the Pelicans plan to finalize the Anthony Davis deal on July 6. That means the Lakers can be in two positions. One is they will have around $23 million if Davis keeps his trade kicker, or they could have near $28 million if he waives it. This means unless they can somehow convince the Pelicans to wait until July 30 (which would give the Lakers $32 million in cap space) or dump every other contract on their roster, they are out of the running for Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker unless they are willing to take pay cuts, which is possible but seems unlikely despite reports that Kawhi is in the mix and that Irving .
The best move for the Lakers, then, might be to to spread that money around to lower-tier, non-max free agents. CBS Sports' own Brad Botkin put together a great list of Bogdan Bogdanovic, JJ Redick, Terrence Ross and Darren Collison. What do all those guys have in common? Not only can they shoot, but they can create their own shot. There are plenty of non-max options out there.. Included on that list are guys like
Let's say in a perfect world for the Lakers, the reports that they want to gut the rest of their roster and move Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jermarrio Jones to clear enough space for a third max player are true. In that scenario, if that max player isn't Leonard, then the previous paragraph stands. Assuming Durant and Thompson are out of the picture due to injury and LeBron not wanting to sign teammates that will sit one of his three years left, that leaves you with Jimmy Butler, Irving, Kemba Walker and a tier right below that of guys who may end up getting max deals by attrition. Does LeBron, AD, Kuzma and fill in the blank max player get you a title in the next two to three years? Possibly, and they'll certainly be favorites in Vegas. But as this and years past with LeBron's teams have proven, you never know in the playoffs, and you need depth all season.
The Lakers will be the only team in the NBA with two active top-10 players on their roster next season. The days of building to beat the Warriors are done (at least for one year). Filling your roster with the right pieces instead of chasing another max player should be the play here.
The key is no more one-year deals to fill out the roster. Find guys that fit around LeBron and Davis and give them a few years. Build roster continuity for at least the rest of the time LeBron is in Los Angeles. Line it up to get three more great years out of LeBron and when his deal is up, so is everyone else's but Davis. And in the event that you don't win a title in the LeBron era, and Kawhi wants to be in L.A. after his deal or Kyrie still wants to play with Davis, you'll still be rebuilding with what could be the best player in the league.
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