When the final buzzer sounded at Oracle Arena on Thursday, the 2018-19 NBA season officially ended. While it was a season to remember for some teams like the Toronto Raptors, who won their first NBA championship since their establishment in 1995, it was a season to forget for other teams like the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite landing the biggest fish in free agency last summer in LeBron James, the Lakers were unable to snap their six-season playoff drought and, coincidentally, ended James’ 13-year postseason streak, which included eight consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. It goes without saying, but the first year of the LeBron LeBronera in Los Angeles could have gone better.
Luckily for both James and his team, the Lakers seem primed to have a bounce back season. Equipped with the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft and roughly $32 million in cap space, the Lakers can drastically improve their roster this summer without giving up any meaningful assets, including their promising young players. However, they could also use their assets and financial flexibility to make a splashy trade for a superstar, and it looks like that’s an avenue they’re already exploring.
Earlier this month, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the Lakers, along with the Boston Celtics, were engaged in talks with the New Orleans Pelicans about a trade for Anthony Davis. Davis and the Lakers have been linked since January, when the 26-year-old forward expressed his desire to be moved to Los Angeles.
The Lakers were unable to execute a trade for Davis before February’s NBA trade deadline despite offering nearly their entire roster to the Pelicans and, at the time, it seemed like they had missed their window to trade for Davis. Four months later, and it seems as though the Lakers are the heavy favorites to land Davis — or at least that was the overwhelming feeling before Thursday.
In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Kevin Durant suffered a torn left achilles tendon that could probably keep him sidelined for the entirety of the 2019-20 season. The next game, Klay Thompson suffered a torn ACL, an injury that could keep him sidelined for the majority of the NBA regular season.
While both Durant and Thompson are set to hit unrestricted free agency, the expectation even before the injury was that at least one of them would re-sign. It’s unfortunate to have to discuss injuries in terms of how they’ll affect the rest of the league, but these ripple effects have to be acknowledged, and in the case of Durant and Thompson, these are more like tidal waves altering the Western Conference landscape.
Now, the presumptive favorite in the West for the last four or five years will be without two of its star players for most of the season, potentially busting the conference wide open and, in doing so, convincing other teams that next season can be their season.
Whether or not that’s true is subjective, but that won’t stop teams from talking themselves into taking the same risk that the Raptors did with Kawhi Leonard, and putting together an offer for a superstar on an expiring contract. Davis’ camp has made it well-known they intend on signing with the Lakers in 2020, but the same thing was said about Paul George, who re-upped with the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer, and Kawhi Leonard, who seems more likely to re-sign with Toronto after leading them to a championship.
So, the big question for the Lakers is: Can they still put together a competitive offer for Davis if more teams are willing to surrender assets for him? It’s complicated.
The Lakers have a lot of assets they can offer the Pelicans for Davis, including the aforementioned No. 4 pick, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and future draft considerations. However, just because the Lakers can offer the most assets of any fringe playoff team in the Western Conference doesn’t mean the Pelicans value those assets as much as they value other, smaller packages that get them exactly what they’re looking for.
For example: If a team like the Portland Trail Blazers offered the Pelicans a package built around a starting center in Jusuf Nurkic, a pair of promising young players in Anfernee Simons and Zach Collins, and future draft considerations, would New Orleans value that package more than the Lakers’ package? Remember: It was reported earlier this month that the Pelicans were seeking an All-Star caliber player, a promising young player and draft picks in return for Davis. Nurkic might not be an All-Star, but he’s more of a sure thing than anything the Lakers can offer.
The Denver Nuggets are also a team to watch in the race for Davis. Would the Nuggets consider a package built around Gary Harris, Mason Plumlee, Michael Porter Jr., Malik Beasley and future draft picks? They might.
Could Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and the No. 4 pick ultimately be better than the players in these trade proposals? Yes, and some would argue it’s even likely, but if the Pelicans are looking for established talent to place alongside Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson right now, the Lakers can’t offer that outside of James and maybe Kuzma.
If the Pelicans believe that the Lakers’ young core can help them win games in the immediate future, then maybe a Davis trade is still possible. Otherwise, Lakers fans might have to wait another year to see A.D. in L.A.