Anthony Davis was sensational as the Lakers beat his old team, the New Orleans Pelicans, in Los Angeles last night. Davis finished the game with 46 points, 13 rebounds and one opportunity for LeBron James to send a proverbial middle finger to critics of the trade that brought Davis to L.A. on Instagram.
Yeah, you read that right: After the Lakers beat the Pelicans in a 123-113 win, LeBron said the quiet part loudly, sending an Instagram story with the caption “WE STILL GAVE TO MUCH FOR HIM HUH??!!!???”
This is particularly savage when considering the context. The Lakers had literally just welcomed the three young players — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart — that they gave up to Davis back to L.A. for the first time since getting traded. LeBron even went around and hugged them after the game!
Even on a night in which Davis did nearly outproduce those three players on his own, this was a cold reminder to the artists formerly known as the Baby Lakers that James wasn’t too broken up about his former teammates getting dealt to bring in a new star. Which is fine, that’s how James has always been, and his commitment to looking past personal feelings to build a winner is somewhat admirable, it’s still just a reality that has to be acknowledged.
What also has to be acknowledged is that...
**voice drops to a low whisper**
...the Lakers kinda sorta maybe did give up too much for Anthony Davis.
Hold on, wait, before you get really mad, let me explain. I am not writing this because Davis is not a good player. He’s probably the best defender in the world, and a perfect complement to James on offense. How special he is has clearly been a huge factor in the Lakers’ Western Conference-best 28-7 start, and no one is saying the Lakers shouldn’t have traded for him, or should have let keeping one theoretical future pick, pick swap or one of the young players they sent out keep them from getting him.
With all that noted, the Lakers still probably did not have to give up everything they did in order to get Davis. I mean, look at all this stuff:
The Pelicans have agreed to a deal to trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round picks – including the No. 4 overall in 2019 Draft, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2019
Can confirm the Lakers are sending New Orleans the No. 4 pick this year, a top-8 protected pick in 2021 which becomes unprotected in 2022, an unprotected swap in 2023, unprotected first in 2024 and an unprotected swap in 2025, as @TimBontemps reported.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) June 16, 2019
A clarification on the haul of draft picks heading the Pelicans' way. The 2021 pick goes to New Orleans if it's in the top eight, if not they'll get an unprotected first in 2022. Swap in 2023. Unprotected first in 2024, with a right to defer to 2025.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) June 16, 2019
Additionally, the Lakers also agreed to do the deal on a date that was more convenient for the Pelicans, necessitating that they had to salary dump three more former draft picks (including a first-rounder from the previous year in Moe Wagner) just to clear max cap space for free agency.
Now, Davis is still better than all that, and probably worth such a price in a fair market. But the market the Pelicans were dealing with at the time, it’s important to remember, was not a fair one. Davis and his agent Rich Paul had essentially scared away every other suitor. There were no reliable reports that the Pelicans were even engaged with anyone else at the time due to those other teams’ fears of Davis up and leaving them for the Lakers in a year. In that climate, the Lakers still negotiated against themselves, and while it’s debatable if that led to them giving up too much, it almost certainly meant they gave more than they had to. So maybe this is all just a matter of semantics.
Again, this isn’t to kill Rob Pelinka and the front office in hindsight. To be fair to the Lakers, they were trying to get the Davis trade framework in place so that they could more easily chase Kawhi Leonard in free agency, and there are benefits to just getting the deal done sooner rather than later so that they could bring Davis in to training camp instead of nickel-and-diming the Pelicans to the point that they held off on a Davis trade. But still, the Lakers had some level of leverage here, and seemingly acquiesced all of it in their desperation to get Davis.
Why does this matter? It’s not because any of those young players would have helped the team this year, although they very well might have. But the reason it matters is more because any of those assets would have been helpful in getting a trade done to address the team’s point guard issues, to get them a second wing defender, or other peripheral moves that would raise their ceiling as a roster.
Now, the Lakers may just be good enough anyway, but not having any assets to get a deal done also could hurt them. We don’t know which it will be, but if things all end up working out in spite of the possibly flawed process that got them to this (still really great) place, it’s a safe bet that LeBron James will be Instagramming videos of himself and Davis drinking wine on a parade float down Figueroa, asking annoying critics like myself if the Lakers still gave up too much.
If that’s how things work out, I’ll happily concede that I was wrong, and never should have doubted their power as a duo. But as long as Rajon Rondo is being shoehorned in as the team’s most reliable backup point guard, there will be fair questions about whether or not even a small asset or two could have helped this team a bit, either on the court or in a trade.