On one hand, the Los Angeles Lakers employ Anthony Davis and LeBron James, two of the NBA’s top five or six players, depending on who is doing the evaluations. On the other, the negotiations to get Davis (based on what we know of them right now) were not particularly smooth and might have involved an absolutely critical mistake.
According to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report, some around the league are skeptical on how much the Lakers gave up, considering the circumstances:
“Lakers overpaid by a significant margin, given the conditions,” one longtime team executive said.
”Experienced front office vs. inexperienced,” a veteran team official observed.
The important words to note there are “longtime” and “veteran.” Pelinka is in the first year in this specific role without Magic Johnson by his side. As it stands right now, no one in the front office has any experience dealing with trade negotiation of this scale and, quite frankly, it shows.
However, not every anonymous executive surveyed that who “won” or “lost” the trade can’t be known right now. All we do know, according to this “rival GM” that spoke to Beck, is that Pelinka wasn’t necessarily set up for success:
You could say the Lakers won the trade but lost the negotiation.
”Let’s just wait to see who lost the negotiation,” another rival GM cautioned. “What we can say with certainty is all the pressure surrounding Pelinka [stemming from Johnson’s departure and the resulting stream of controversy] 1000 percent creates pressure for him to deliver on something like this. And when you’re under that sort of pressure to deliver something like this, you’re in a disadvantageous negotiating position.”
Or, as the first team executive said, “Never let your GM be in a spot where he needs to make a trade to save his job.”
And this is the point to keep in mind here.
It’s absolutely wild that Pelinka, in his first year as lead decision-maker for the Lakers, is already functioning as if he has to save his own job. How is this a manageable working environment?
When people ask, “what other offers were the Lakers negotiating against,” that kind of misses the point. This was never about the Lakers vying for position as the team with the best trade package. No, the Lakers were screwed from the get-go.
David Griffin, an experienced executive himself, knew that the Lakers had to make a trade and were far more desperate than he was. Griffin was always going to get something for Davis, it was just a matter of what and from whom.
Pelinka, conversely, couldn’t push away from negotiations and, as a result, was always working from a position of weakness — at least based on what we know about the trade as things stand right now.
The other thing working against the Lakers was the offer Johnson made back at the trade deadline. In offering basically everything not bolted down, he set a precedent New Orleans was always going to try to live up to.
Combine all that, and, well you arrive at a place where the Pelicans were able to dictate not only the initial price (which extended far beyond anything else anyone was offering), but also are now in a position to take even more from the Lakers as they try to open up the cap space they somehow didn’t open up in the first place while offering the majority of their player and draft assets.
Now, the vast majority of people reading this are going to come back with some version of, “who gives a f---, the Lakers have Anthony Davis.” Trust me on the language, it’s been in my mentions for the last week. But the thing they’re failing to acknowledge is that the Lakers — had they approached this with a more level head — could have had Davis, max cap space (either for a single star or to spread across the roster) and additional assets they didn’t have to include in the trade for him.
Let’s say Pelinka is able to open up the full $32 million of cap space by moving Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones. The Lakers will have literally only three players on their roster and only one means to add to that group (free agency).
Given the now dogmatic edict against moving Kyle Kuzma, they won’t be able to trade any players. And because of the Stepien Rule (which forbids teams from trading back-to-back first round picks), they won’t be able to trade first rounders for the foreseeable future.
Now, let’s say the Lakers add a third superstar, using up all that cap space on one position, that means they’ll have only the room exception (worth about $4 million), veteran’s minimum contracts and whatever second-round picks they buy in tonight’s NBA draft to surround Davis, James and superstar X with a viable rotation.
Pelinka’s job will be made considerably easier by the presence of those three stars, don’t get me wrong. And this should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway: It’s really exciting to know that heading into next season that we’ll get to watch James and Davis play on the court for the Lakers at the same time.
But Pelinka and the Lakers made their jobs endlessly harder for themselves by way of the desperation they approached this trade. It’s impossible to argue otherwise at this point. And it gets back to their managing of the margins. They’ve done a fantastic job of
letting Rich Paul hand them over James and Davis taking care of the major acquisitions, but they’ve been piss poor at just about everything else.
There’s still plenty of time to turn things around, and maybe all that matters are these big moves. I’m skeptical given how competitive the NBA is, but fine. They quite literally have a ton of work left to do, and the Lakers can’t afford to keep making life harder on themselves than it has to be.