LEBRON JAMES SAID what many Los Angeles Lakers fans have been thinking for months now.
When talking to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin on Tuesday, James said that the Lakers trading for Anthony Davis “would be amazing … that would be incredible.”
Indeed it would. It wasn’t the most eloquent quote of James’ career but, like almost everything he says on the record, there was some calculation behind it. He knew it would kick up a dust storm. Not to mention he has returned to his annual tradition of making passive-aggressive comments about his team’s roster.
Since James started it, let’s tell a few truths about Davis and the Lakers. And we’re going to start with the most salacious one, but please hear out the entire situation before leaping to conclusions and tearing off hot takes.
If Davis felt the same way James did and wants to be a Laker, his best move would be to ask for a trade now before the Boston Celtics are allowed to get into the bidding. The Celtics, with a possible four first-round picks in the 2019 draft plus a bevy of young prospects, have a serious interest in trading for Davis if he ever becomes available.
They might be able to outbid almost anyone if it came to that. But the Celtics can’t trade for Davis now because teams are forbidden from trading for two “designated” players at the same time. They already have one, Kyrie Irving, and Davis is one too. The term refers to the types of contract extensions they signed.
Before you ask: Yes, the Celtics could trade Irving for Davis but this defeats the point. Also, Irving, a free agent-to-be who has pledged his loyalty to the Celtics, isn’t a player the New Orleans Pelicans would want. Once Irving’s contract expires in July, then a trade would be allowed.
The Pelicans aren’t interested in trading Davis and instead have been engaged in trade talks to try to improve their team around him. They are currently in 12th in the standings but, as is the nature of the Western Conference, they are just three games out of fourth place.
They had a fantastic second half last season and have been dogged by unrelenting injuries recently. There is still plenty of opportunity to have a great season. This is no time to give up on the best player in franchise history and they do not intend to.
Certainly they recognize their situation with Davis is tenuous and they feel the pressure. But they absolutely want to get to the summer when they can potentially offer Davis a supermax extension that would potentially pay him $70 million more than he can get anywhere else. If they do have to face the reality of a trade at some point down the line — a definite possibility if Davis rejects the extension — they would want to make sure the Celtics are able to make a bid. Not because it’s a foregone conclusion that’s where Davis would go, but so that it will juice the marketplace.
Davis has given no indication he wants to leave New Orleans. In fact, he has been dedicating himself toward the team over the past year more than ever before. He’s playing through injuries. He’s playing out of his preferred position. He has shown noticeable leadership growth. He’s having a career season and has a real chance at the MVP award.
He did switch agents over the summer, hiring Rich Paul, who also represents James. That certainly rattled the Pelicans. Maybe Davis will eventually end up in L.A. playing alongside James. Maybe he will play the game of trying to force a trade and use his 2020 free agency as a weapon to get to a preferred team.
But by all accounts Davis doesn’t seem to be there yet and everything else is just deductive reasoning. It may be really good deductive reasoning. But right now, that’s what it is.
James has walked the line between accepting he’s in a transitional season and smelling opportunity as some of the top West teams have stumbled. Half of the Lakers’ roster is made up of veterans on one-year contracts who could easily be shipped out tomorrow or over the summer. The other half is young players auditioning to see if they can play with James or being ripened to use in a trade to get a player like Davis.
He has talked about patience, endlessly praised Lonzo Ball and supported Luke Walton. He also has whispered about Carmelo Anthony, pined for Trevor Ariza and is now is dangling red meat when discussing Davis. He’ll also turn 34 in less than two weeks.
This is only the beginning; it probably will get only more interesting between now and the trade deadline.
TWO WEEKS AGO when the Brooklyn Nets lost their eighth straight game after blowing a huge lead at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder, there were some concerns within the league that coach Kenny Atkinson was on the hot seat.
Then they pulled out a huge overtime win over the Toronto Raptors and it has turned things totally around. Tuesday they won their sixth straight over the Lakers at home, highlighted by Jarrett Allen‘s monster block of a LeBron dunk attempt. D’Angelo Russell is healthy and having his best season, averaging career highs in scoring, assists and PER. He’s still a little inconsistent, mostly because his shot isn’t trustworthy, but he’s playing like someone who wants to prove a point before entering free agency.
Spencer Dinwiddie, who just signed a $34 million extension, is also having a career year as is Joe Harris, who is sixth in the league in 3-point shooting. Allen has been one of the league’s best centers on defense. And this rebound is coming without arguably the team’s best player, Caris LeVert, who is recovering from a frightening foot injury a month ago.
Suddenly they’re two games out of sixth in the East and sources report they are hinting in talks with teams they could be a buyer at the trade deadline. That’s not something that has been heard in years.
LEAGUE EXECUTIVES ARE puzzled by the Suns over the Marshon/Dillon Brooks snafu, of course, but more so in how they’ve just waived Tyson Chandler and Austin Rivers so early in the calendar. They both were on the last year of their contracts and could have been used in potential trades before the deadline. OK, the Suns are tanking and have told teams they’re not interested in taking on future money but these moves slam the door shut on many opportunities and those players could’ve been bought out after the deadline. Even if just acting as a third team to facilitate a deal and pick up an asset. When you add in Darrell Arthur, who was waived over the summer, Phoenix is paying nearly $30 million to guys who will never assist them in anything ever again. Not great business.
THE KINGS HAVE a difficult nine games coming up, all against strong Western Conference teams. Their playoff legitimacy may reveal itself these next couple of weeks. … Possible MVP showdown Wednesday with Giannis Antetokounmpo against Anthony Davis. Giannis is averaging 26.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists. No player in NBA history has ever averaged at least 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists for an entire season, per ESPN Stats & Information research. Davis is averaging 28.0 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. The last player to average at least 25 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks for an entire season was Tim Duncan in 2001-02. He was named the MVP. … Antetokounmpo has four eight-dunk games this season. The only player with more in the past 20 years is Shaquille O’Neal, who had five in 2002-03.