By Reed Becker
Right on the heels of the NBA crowning a new champion the league was shaken up with the news of Anthony Davis being traded to the Lakers. Things heated up last week when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Pelicans wanted a deal done by the weekend. The Lakers gave up Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round draft picks, including the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. According to Tim Bontemps of ESPN, the Lakers gave up a top-eight protected pick in 2021 (which becomes unprotected in 2022), an unprotected first pick swap in 2023, an unprotected first-round pick in 2024, and an unprotected pick swap in 2025. This trade smells like the Brooklyn/Boston trade in 2014 that crushed the Nets franchise for years. However, this trade isn’t 100% like that one because when the Nets traded for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry they were all well towards the end of their careers, where in this deal Davis is just entering his prime. The only part of this comparison that has legs is the amount of draft picks that LA gave up. The swapped picks are key because that is what Brooklyn gave up in the Boston trade and it resulted in Danny Ainge being able to land Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the draft and to use the other pick as part of the trade with Cleveland for Kyrie Irving.
For the Lakers, the trade is a gamble but a trade they had to make. It is a gamble because of the huge amount of draft picks they gave up. However, the Lakers are betting that giving up all these draft picks will be worth it because they are in win now mode and are assuming that those future draft picks won’t be as valuable — with AD and LeBron playing together they should be late first round picks. Also, now that the Magic Johnson/Rob Pelinka drama is behind them and they just acquired Davis, they now have a better chance of signing a next-tier free agent and some veteran role players at or near the league minimum to add depth to their roster. And don’t forget, the Lakers being able to hold on to Kyle Kuzma is an enormous win for the purple and gold because he is arguably their best young talent. Now with LA having LeBron, AD, and Kuzma on their roster they actually have a good big three to compete in the West. The acquisition of AD makes the Lakers an instant contender in the West, but not yet the favorite because there are still a lot of dominos that still need to fall in free agency before we can pick a favorite for the upcoming season.
What the Lakers need to focus on in free agency is signing a starting point guard to replace Ball and Rajon Rondo, and some shooters to put around LeBron James (something they never did last season). In terms of the point guards that are available, it is unlikely that the Lakers will be able to get a max free agent like a Kemba Walker because, as Adrian Wojnarowski reported, this trade won’t be official until July 6th, which is when Davis’s money would hit the Lakers salary cap. This means that the Lakers will have only about $28m available to spend in free agency if Davis waves his $4m trade bonus, or just under $24m if he doesn’t. Either way, this isn’t enough to sign a max player. But, if the Pelicans were willing to wait until July 30th to close the trade, the Lakers could have $32.5m available in cap space, which would be enough to sign a max player. While they can still agree to a contract in principle, it is still unlikely for a max free agent to sign with LA because they can get more money from other teams right away when free agency opens. A player that could be available to them is Malcolm Brogdon, who can play point guard or shooting guard and would be killing two birds with one stone. Brogdon is a good shooter as basketball-reference.com points out, he shot 50% from the field and over 42% from three-point range this past season. Another shooter that comes to mind for the Lakers to add is JJ Redick, who has been one of the league’s best three-point shooters throughout his career. This would add more scoring and would help space the floor to allow LeBron and Davis to operate more freely (AD’s three-point shooting will also help spread the floor as well). Another scorer that the Lakers could surround LeBron with is Jimmy Butler. There were a bunch of reports throughout the season that Butler has an interest in playing with LeBron in LA because he loves the spotlight. With the Lakers now putting AD into the equation this will only strengthen LA’s chances to land Butler.
For the Pelicans, this is also a trade that they had to do because Davis would have certainly left next year in free agency if he wasn’t traded. Even though New Orleans was in a tough spot with Davis’s public demands, echoed recently by his agent Rich Paul, they still were able to get a lot in return, specifically the number of Laker draft picks. Pelicans’ EVP of Basketball Operations, David Griffin, still was able to play the Lakers by getting these draft picks as they now have the Lakers future in their hands. With regards to the players New Orleans got back, it all depends on their health. If Lonzo Ball can stay healthy he has a lot of upside with his ability to dish the ball and throw lobs all day to Zion Williamson. Furthermore, no longer playing with LeBron may wind up being the best for Lonzo’s future in the league because now he isn’t under constant pressure to meet LeBron’s standards. The main part of his game that he still has to work on to fulfill his potential is his jump shot. As for Brandon Ingram, he made great strides last year and yet still has more upside. He can score the ball and if he is able to come back 100% from his blood clot issue then he can have a chance to try to live up to his potential away from LeBron. And don’t forget, Josh Hart is a strong young player that thrived at Villanova and whose scoring ability has translated very well to the NBA. With regards to Griffin not being able to acquire Kuzma from LA, the only likely reason the Pelicans were OK with not getting Kuzma was that LA put in all three draft picks as the sweetener instead. Finally, as Adrian Wojnarowski has reported, I would expect David Griffin to try to move the fourth pick in the NBA Draft for a proven star.
There are still a lot of moving parts that will show themselves during free agency. It will be very interesting to see who the Lakers are able to sign, if the Knicks will actually strike out in free agency, and where the big fish will land come June 30th at 6 pm.