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Are the Lakers the last team in the race for Anthony Davis?

A closer look at the Brooklyn Nets’ salary dump suggests that the Lakers have taken the lead in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes.

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The NBA offseason got its first jolt yesterday when the Brooklyn Nets unloaded Allen Crabbe on the Atlanta Hawks for the price of two first-round picks. Admittedly, it feels silly to get excited about a salary dump in the middle of the Finals, but this is the path that fans of lottery teams have chosen.

For the Los Angeles Lakers, this is a particularly interesting time because they might now be in the driver’s seat to acquire Anthony Davis, thanks to the Brooklyn Nets.

By clearing out Crabbe and the $18.5 million he was due this year, the Nets have positioned themselves to sign two max-level free agents this summer. The names most commonly linked to Brooklyn are Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, which would be a hilarious outcome for the New York Knicks if that were to happen.

The Nets were believed to have one of the most attractive trade packages for Davis, ever since New Orleans decided to once again listen to trade offers for its disgruntled superstar. Although Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Davis is only interested in re-signing with the Lakers, Clippers, Bucks, or Knicks, Brooklyn’s combination of young players and future picks made the team a popular rumored destination.

Now, the Nets are out two first-rounders, having sent their 2019 and 2020 draft selections to the Hawks. Furthermore, because of the protections on the 2020 pick, Brooklyn isn’t allowed to trade another first-rounder until 2024. Combine that with the seven-year rule, and the Pelicans would be limited to receiving the 2024 and 2026 first-round picks from the Nets in a Davis trade. Even as Brooklyn once again chases superstars, something tells me that team wouldn’t feel comfortable trading picks so far out in the future, or that New Orleans would be interested in assets not recoupable for another five years.

Should the Nets land two free agents, they could theoretically send Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs, and the 2024/2026 picks to the Pelicans for Davis, but that package pales in comparison to what other teams could offer. Furthermore, without Crabbe, Brooklyn no longer has enough salary to make the trade work. Theoretically, that removes one team from consideration for Anthony Davis.

The Nets’ certainty in their free-agency plans suggests that New York may have difficulty executing its own. Would the Knicks be willing to give up Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, the No. 3 pick, and future picks for Davis if they didn’t have superstars to surround him immediately? It would be highly unlikely for Davis to re-sign in that scenario, which limits New York’s viability.

The increasing smoke between Irving and the Nets, as well as Irving and the Lakers, combined with Danny Ainge’s defeatism when discussing Irving’s future with the Celtics, indicates that the mercurial guard is on his way out of Boston. Without Irving, the Celtics are unlikely to mortgage their future just to pair Davis with Al Horford and a brittle Gordon Hayward. Ainge has been eyeing Davis for years, but his team’s situation no longer makes sense for the 26-year-old.

Milwaukee is also on the Brow’s list, but they have no future picks and nothing beyond Giannis Antetokounmpo to trade, unless New Orleans has a real fondness for Eric Bledsoe, so the Bucks aren’t much of a threat.

The LA Clippers also entered the conversation at the trade deadline, when they turned Tobias Harris into a treasure chest of assets to be used in future deals, including Landry Shamet and an unprotected 2021 Miami first-rounder. The Clippers are also one of Davis’ preferred destinations, but reporting suggests that LA would rather play the free-agency game and retain their young core. ESPN insider Bobby Marks — who we should note worked with Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank while with the Nets — said that LA is unwilling to part with their prized point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for a Davis rental. That would presumably end all discussions with the Pelicans.

Even if we can cross out all the other teams on Davis’ wish list, that doesn’t mean that he won’t be traded somewhere else — surprise contenders always emerge. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard wanted to come to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers, and both ended up elsewhere through trades. Irving wanted to lead his own team in Miami, New York, or even San Antonio, and was instead sent to Boston. Jimmy Butler had eyes for the Clippers or either New York team and found his way to Philadelphia.

If a player wants to be traded, his team will search for whatever offer is most appealing to their organization, the player’s list be damned.

Lucky for the Lakers, not only to they feature on Davis’ list, they also have enough assets to make a deal work. It’s been documented that the Pelicans had real interest in the L.A.’s earlier trade offers, and more recently we’ve learned that Alvin Gentry is high on Lonzo Ball. There’s also the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft, along with sweeteners like Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga.

It’s clear that the Lakers can outbid whatever any other team has to offer and still retain enough pieces to complement Davis once he gets to Los Angeles. Years of missing the playoffs have at least allowed the Lakers to stockpile their reserves and be ready for this exact situation. The combination of Brandon Ingram, Ball, and everything else in the team’s war chest makes L.A. the team to beat.

The real question is if the Lakers have the stomach to go for broke after their last attempt to acquire a superstar on an expiring contract failed so spectacularly. In some ways, Los Angeles is still reeling from the after-effects of the Dwight Howard trade. In both cases, the Lakers had a superstar in the later stages of his prime looking for one more shot at a title, and they were seduced by the possibility of trading for a young star big man to be his running mate.

Los Angeles already tried to slow-play the process of building a contender around LeBron James last year. It didn’t work. Now, the Lakers have Frank Vogel and his playoff experience instead of Luke Walton the ingenue. Instead of a parade of former Arizona Wildcats lining the bench, the Lakers hired veteran coaches Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins as assistants.

These are the actions of a team that is trying to get better fast by going with people with proven track records instead of reinventing the wheel. To me, that would suggest that the Lakers are ready to get Anthony Davis rather than wait for one of their young players to grow into becoming a star. Hollins isn’t here to be part of a rebuild — he’s here to help take the next step.

The rest of the league has cleared the way for Los Angeles to get its second star, and if the Lakers can manage to not fumble the negotiations and maintain their max cap space in the deal, maybe a third. There’s a real opportunity here for them to finally escape the lottery and actually be playing basketball instead of reading the offseason tea leaves this time next year. They just have to be ready to pull the trigger.

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