The biggest offseason domino has fallen.
Since January, Anthony Davis has openly wanted out of New Orleans, and the Pelicans finally obliged on Saturday, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported they agreed to deal the six-time All-Star to his desired destination, the Los Angeles Lakers, for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, the No. 4 overall pick in Thursday’s draft and two additional first-round selections.
The implications of the trade are widespread. Davis gets to play with LeBron James, as the 26-year-old superstar wanted, while the Pelicans are set to go young with their rebuild around expected No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. With the Golden State Warriors largely out of commission next season due to injuries and free-agent uncertainty, the Western Conference is wide open, and the Lakers sent the message to the NBA that they’re ready to go all-in.
Plenty more has to shake out, including Thursday’s draft and what is expected to be a dramatic free-agency period in July. But here are the early winners, losers and takeaways from the reported deal.
Winners: Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Rich Paul
All along, Davis wanted to be a Laker, and he got his wish Saturday. Rich Paul, the agent he and James share at Klutch Sports Group, has been publicly campaigning for Davis to be a Laker since January, most recently in a Sports Illustrated profile published last week. Mission accomplished.
The addition of Davis is huge for James too, after the four-time NBA MVP experienced the most frustrating year of his career. He now has a genuine superstar to team with, the best player he’s had on his roster since Dwyane Wade in Miami.
More importantly for James, the successful acquisition of Davis restores the notion that’s governed the NBA for the past 16 years: LeBron always gets what he wants. He and Paul engineered the trade for Kevin Love upon the King’s move to Cleveland in 2014, successfully got David Blatt replaced with Tyronn Lue as head coach in 2016 and got fellow Klutch clients JR Smith and Tristan Thompson paid.
Successfully getting Davis to Los Angeles is arguably the duo’s crowning achievement. It gives James hope of contending in a meaningful way again as his career winds down, and it bolsters Paul’s reputation as an agent to be reckoned with.
Losers: New York Knicks
The Knicks already seemed like losers this week when top free-agent target Kevin Durant suffered a torn Achilles in the NBA Finals-an injury that will almost certainly keep him out all of next season. They were widely reported to be Davis’ other acceptable long-term destination, and their plan was to attempt to trade for him and use the prospect of a team-up at Madison Square Garden to entice Durant to leave the Warriors.
That dream scenario is now off the board, and there’s no clear backup plan for the Knicks.
Durant could still sign there-his future is up in the air, as he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent on June 30-but even if he does, next year will be a lost season as he rehabs his Achilles injury. They’ll still be in the mix for the other stars expected to be on the market, including Kawhi Leonard and Kemba Walker. But they had banked on the ability to construct a superteam this summer, and that ship appears to have sailed.
Winner: David Griffin
David Griffin inherited an unenviable situation this spring when he took over the Pelicans with a superstar who wanted out and not much else to work with to rebuild. Winning the lottery in May changed everything. After that, the Pelicans no longer had to depend on the return for Davis to net them a superstar. The focal point of their franchise will be Zion Williamson, the projected No. 1 overall pick.
The package of Ball, Ingram, Hart and draft picks looks a lot different when you’re acquiring talent to put around what many think will be the NBA’s next transformative superstar than it does when they’re the franchise’s foundation. Griffin has options now-he can shop some of those picks for proven players if he wants to compete for the playoffs right away, or he can move one or all of the incoming young prospects from L.A. in a future deal.
Either way, he has a nice collection of pieces to ensure Williamson’s time in New Orleans goes better than Davis’ did.
You’re never going to get 100 cents on the dollar when trading a player as good as Davis, but Griffin did well.
Losers: Boston Celtics
According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Celtics president Danny Ainge’s pursuit of Davis was doomed because he wouldn’t include prized forward Jayson Tatum in the deal. This was the correct decision for Ainge, who will likely losing Kyrie Irving (player option) in free agency, given that Davis and his camp have been open about their lack of interest in playing in Boston.
But where the Celtics go from here is uncertain. If Irving leaves, they’ll be less talented next season. This year was disappointing for them, as it was filled with chemistry issues and inconsistent play. Maybe Irving’s absence will be addition by subtraction.
But time after time, Ainge has refused to include his best assets in trades for superstars (Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Paul George). The clock may be running out for him to get a star and maximize the window for title contention that he’s meticulously built.
Winners: Lakers’ Free-Agency Prospects
After the Davis trade is official, the Lakers will have close to $30 million in cap space, which will put them within range of landing another big free agent. Remember, Walker will be available, Irving intends to opt out of his deal, and so does Butler.
Before the Davis trade, the Lakers hadn’t been seen as an attractive destination. The dysfunction and drama were obvious this season, and signing up to play with James comes with intense scrutiny from all corners of the basketball world.
Los Angeles’ little-brother franchise, the Clippers, appeared to be a much better bet for free agents who wanted the entertainment-industry opportunities in the city coupled with a better basketball situation.
The opportunity to sign up to join LeBron and Davis is much more appealing. The Lakers could go from missing the playoffs to the favorites to win the Western Conference overnight, depending on how free agency shakes out. Even if they don’t get another star, they’ll have plenty of money to fill out the roster with solid role players that fit better around James than the Rajon Rondo-Lance Stephenson-Michael Beasley group did last season.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka has work to do to build the rest of the roster. But getting Davis on board will make that task much easier.