With the Boston Celtics seemingly nervous to push all their trade chips to the middle of the table as Kyrie Irving seems ready to take off in free agency, the Los Angeles Clippers reluctant to part with known commander of worlds Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the New York Knicks being, well, the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in pretty good position to land Anthony Davis.
According to Ramona Shelburne speaking on ESPN Radio, they seem to know this and are using it to their advantage (emphasis mine):
“And the Lakers’ game here is that they have by far the best package. The only team that can really trump them would be Boston if they put Jayson Tatum in, and even that, Tatum kind of had an off year, so he’s not as valuable as he was a year ago.
“I think the Lakers feel like they’re in the driver’s seat, in the sense that every day that goes by now, it feels like the offers for Anthony get worse. And there’s not many other teams that can make this kind of combination of offers.
“I really think it probably comes down to whether or not New Orleans can find that veteran player that they want. And you have to either flip the fourth pick or flip Ingram to get that veteran, All-Star-type player that they want as part of that package. And that probably has to come from a third team.”
Here’s the thing, though: The Lakers now have a bit of a history over-playing their leverage to their own detriment.
At the trade deadline, the first reported deal in negotiations for Davis was so laughable that it might have derailed the conversation from that point forward. Just recently, they thought they could force Tyronn Lue to sign a below-market deal to be the new head coach and tell him whom he would be working alongside on his own coaching staff.
Frank Vogel is now the Lakers head coach.
Look, the Lakers are very much sitting in a position of strength based on what has actually been reported thus far. The thing about leverage though — especially when negotiating a trade for a player as talented as Anthony Davis — is that it can change quickly.
New Orleans has long seemed at the very least disinterested in trading Davis to the Lakers for a variety of reasons. As soon as they get a deal that rivals whatever the Lakers are offering, they’re likely to turn their attention to those negotiations.
We’ve already seen Kawhi Leonard suddenly sent north to Toronto. The Paul George-to-Oklahoma City trade manifested pretty rapidly. Both those deals came about after lengthy negotiations with the Lakers. There are differences in those situations, but the larger point here is that all it takes is a team to decide it’s worth the risk to match or slightly top the Lakers’ offer.
It’s altogether likely that no team has made an offer that matches (let alone tops) what the Lakers have made available to New Orleans. If that had happened, a deal would be agreed to already. It’s also probably pretty hard for the Lakers to gauge what the market looks like, and very well might not find out about a contending offer until it is too late.
However you feel about Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, the No. 4 pick or Kyle “Kobe Michael Magic Abdul-Jabbar” Kuzma, the Lakers can’t afford to once again overplay their leverage. They have to land Davis. They just do.
Davis would signal a potential (if not probable) increase in the likelihood that the Lakers can sign another star come the opening of free agency. Even by himself alongside LeBron James, the Lakers would enter next year as a fascinating team in a hugely different league. Rob Pelinka might have entered these negotiations with a price in mind, but he also has to remain flexible.
We’ve seen what happens when the Lakers consider themselves in a better position than they were actually in. At the deadline, New Orleans had options — they opted to wait. Lue had options and decided unemployment was better than working below his market value for a shorter amount of time alongside coaches he didn’t choose. In this case, New Orleans’ options might not be great now, but as soon as they improve, the Lakers could, once again, find themselves looking for someone else to blame.