The inevitable finally happened. Anthony Davis has been traded to the only team he ever truly wanted to play for; the Los Angeles Lakers. And the price for one of the most valuable players in the sport was something that has never been seen before.
When I say that the New Orleans Pelicans received a haul from the Lakers in order to obtain Davis, I really mean that they fleeced them. Bamboozled them. Robbed them. Any other over-the-top adjective you can think of. The Lakers were backed into a position where they had to go all in on Davis and they bet the next five years of the franchise’s future in the process.
The final results of the trade are as follows:
New Orleans receives Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick in the 2019 Draft, and two other future first round picks. The Lakers get Davis. The real power move executed by David Griffin and the Pelicans front office was the ability to swap those future first-round Laker picks.
The Pelicans will get the following picks from the Lakers, league sources tell ESPN:
No. 4 pick in 2019
Top-8 protected in 2021, becomes unprotected in ‘22
Unprotected swap in ‘23
Unprotected first in ‘24
Unprotected swap in ‘25
Tremendous haul for David Griffin & the Pelicans.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) June 16, 2019
Now, if the Lakers are consistently at the top of the standings for the next several seasons, these picks will be somewhere in the 20-30 range – or late first round – but allowing the opportunity to swap those picks allows the Pelicans to pick and choose which draft and which prospects will suit them best. It also makes them incredibly valuable trade assets in the future. There’s already been talk that Griffin was shopping the Lakers No. 4 pick before the trade was even executed. You can guarantee he won’t stop doing so. We still have five days before the NBA Draft.
But before we dive into how this trade affects the Pelicans, let’s focus on the Lakers first.
What the trade means for the Lakers
Los Angeles has put all its basketballs into one basket with this trade. They ostracized the young core last season and then shipped out 3/4 of them, leaving only Kyle Kuzma behind. Ideally, losing all those picks won’t be too big of a deal if the team is winning 50-55 games per season, but they have severely handicapped themselves if things turn sour quick. LeBron James will be 35 this December. No matter how adamant Davis has been about staying in Los Angeles, he’s still a free agent next summer and there are a million different scenarios that the upcoming season can and will produce.
At this very moment, the Lakers only control five players under contract for next year; James, Davis, Kuzma, Moe Wagner, and Isaac Bonga.
So, the Lakers have five players under contract and only three are legitimate NBA players. They have enough cap space to theoretically go after another free agent seeking a max contract – although they’ll come up just short of the required money with both James and Davis under contract. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on SportsCenter Sunday morning that since the deal won’t go through until July 6th (instead of June 30th), the Lakers will have slightly under $24 million in cap space to spend. Players such as Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving have already had their names pop up in connection with the Lakers. If L.A. secured one of those bigger names, they would then do what they did last summer, which is to surround the core with veterans on minimum salaries who are willing to chase a ring. Now, if they can properly do that this year instead of signing ‘Shaqtin’ a fool’ superstars Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson, they could be a serious title threat.
However, I think a duo of Davis and James is more than enough on its own to reach a Western Conference Finals, especially given the potential down year for the Golden State Warriors. In my opinion, adding two players on smaller contracts that will complement Davis and James would be a more optimal route to get the most out of two superstars. The free agent crop this summer is going to be ripe with playmakers, shooters, and stretch-big men. Could they snag someone such as J.J. Redick or Danny Green on semi-long term deals for somewhere in the $15 million range? Versatile big men such as Marcus Morris and Thaddeus Young would thrive in a LeBron James system and would come at a much cheaper price tag than say a Butler or Kevin Durant.
The Lakers have the entirety of last season to look at in terms of things they shouldn’t repeat. They won’t go after non-shooters again (or they shouldn’t). I think trying to bring back Rajon Rondo – who is a free agent this summer – on a cheap, one-year deal would be smart, too. He was one of the few components to the team last year that actually understood the drama and how to cope with it. Plus, he’s played successfully alongside Davis before. But first and foremost, the Lakers need to add shooting. Keeping Kuzma out of the deal was huge (although I would have preferred they keep Ingram) and allows at least a little bit of continuity between him and James.
What the trade means for the Pelicans
As for the Pelicans, they pulled off the biggest trade heist since the Brooklyn Nets were swindled out of every possible draft pick for the decaying bodies of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce by the Boston Celtics. Obviously, this trade is in its earliest stages, but we can confidently state that there hasn’t been a more loaded deal in recent history that only yielded one player in return. Yes, the player was Anthony Davis. But the risk is still outstanding. How the rest of it pans out – future draft picks, current prospects, etc. – will determine the success of this trade, but that’s years away.
Now let’s take a peek at the Pelicans roster for the 2019-20 season.
Under contract for next season, the Pelicans have Jrue Holiday, Solomon Hill, and E’Twaun Moore plus the new crop of Ball, Ingram, and Hart. Add in the No. 1 pick, which will be Zion Williamson, plus whatever they do with the No. 4 pick (trade it, use it, etc.), and that’s a solid, exciting foundation.
Julius Randle has a player-option for just under $9 million this summer that I would expect him to decline (he can easily garner a long term deal worth somewhere in the mid-teens) and New Orleans has a team option on Jahlil Okafor’s minimum salary, which I wouldn’t be shocked to see them entertain.
Drafting Williamson and bringing back Randle seems a bit redundant, and Bobby Marks states the Pelicans have roughly $18.8 million in cap space this summer. A starting lineup of Ball, Holiday, Ingram, Williamson, *fill in the blank* isn’t a bad way to begin a rebuild. The Pelicans traded away the best player in its franchise history and came away in a far better situation. They have several young prospects, a bevy of draft picks, in addition to an All-Star caliber guard with Holiday, plus cap space.
The Pelicans could potentially bring back Darius Miller on a cheap contract, too. New Orleans controls his Early Bird Rights, meaning they can sign him for a short deal and have it not count against the salary cap.
The Anthony Davis trade immediately shifted the entire landscape of the NBA. The Lakers are frontrunners once again. The best young player not in the NBA (Williamson) will begin his career on a team that actually has the means to properly execute a rebuild. Davis and James is a talent – and personality – pairing unknown to the NBA world. This is different than Durant teaming up with Steph Curry. The risks are more calculable.
The NBA Finals feels like it finished weeks ago. Free agency is two weeks away still. Buckle up.