The New Orleans Pelicans have finally agreed to trade forward Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers. This puts to rest the long-standing drama surrounding Los Angeles and its pursuit of the superstar, who will pair with LeBron James to form a likely playoff contender.
While the Davis drama is presumably over, a new bit of uncertainty now exists surrounding the Lakers and their plans for pending free agency.
As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently pointed out, the timing of the deal-expected to be executed on July 6-leaves the Lakers short of the available cap space needed to pursue a max-level free agent:
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
For now, expectation is Anthony Davis trade will be completed on July 6, league sources tell @BobbyMarks42 and me. Assuming Davis declines to void $4M trade bonus, this leaves Lakers with $23.7M in space. There is chance that could be amended to July 30, but it’s still 6th now.
So where do the Lakers go from here?
According to David Lord of 247Sports, Los Angeles has a plan in place to create cap space and intends to pursue one of the top players on the upcoming free-agent market:
“I was hearing from a reliable league source that the Lakers already had the needed latitude in place to (a) pursue a max-caliber free agent in July with max money, (b) if successful, then get the trade with the Pelicans revised as needed, and (c) get Davis to waive some or all of his trade bonus as needed. “In other words, I was being told LA was already set to be in business with max cap room if they found a taker. And, I was told, the target will be Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler, with the Lakers confident they can land one or the other.”
Lord goes in-depth with his piece regarding the routes the Lakers could take to create cap space. One option he points to is amending the trade to involve a third team and some of L.A.’s other existing players-possibly including Kyle Kuzma, who isn’t part of the existing Davis deal.
Getting Davis to waive some or all of his $4.06M trade bonus would also help, and the Lakers could try to convince a free agent to take less than a max deal.
Trading away some existing role players appears to be the first part of the plan. According to Wojnarowski and ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the Lakers plan to make Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones and Isaac Bonga available in order to get to the $32 million mark in terms of cap space.
The next step in this approach would involve replacing the aforementioned players with cheaper options.
According to Wojnarowski, the Lakers plan to accomplish this by acquiring second-round selections in the upcoming draft:
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
Lakers are aggressively pursuing the purchase of second-round picks in Thursday’s NBA Draft too, league sources tell ESPN. Those picks will offer two important things for LA: acquisition of inexpensive labor and ability to exceed the salary cap with those minimum contracts. https://t.co/19s9qn8Lbm
If all of these pieces fall into place, then, yes, Los Angeles could conceivably add a top-tier free agent to play alongside Davis and James.
Who could they pursue? Lord mentioned reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler. However, Wojnarowski reported on ESPN’s Get Up, that Leonard has his eye on the Los Angeles Clippers, not the Lakers.
Butler could still be an option, as could Kemba Walker, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
” Charlotte guard Kemba Walker and Philadelphia forward Jimmy Butler are top priorities, sources said.” Haynes wrote.
According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, former James teammate Kyrie Irving is also still in play for Los Angeles.
There are a lot of hoops to jump through, but it does indeed appear that the Lakers can get a third star on their roster before the start of the 2019-20 season.
Would that be enough to make them viable contenders in the Western Conference right away? Possibly. Los Angeles still needs to add some perimeter shooting to complement Davis and James, but there could be some three-point specialists the Lakers can add in the second round of the draft-assuming they do acquire those selections.
With the Golden State Warriors unlikely to be at full strength for the majority of the upcoming season, Davis, James, a third star and a band of unheralded supporting players just might be enough to make Los Angeles the top team in the West once again.