The trade for Anthony Davis from the Pelicans to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first round draft picks in return has stolen the headlines away from the new NBA champion Toronto Raptors. As sure as can be, multiple websites have put out their thoughts on this trade. As a small time blogger, I thought what could I contribute to this discussion? Then it hit me, as it was Father’s Day 2019, it seemed logical to sit down with three NBA addicts to give me their thoughts on this trade and its implications.
The three NBA addicts were my three sons. All three of my 22, 18, and 16 year old sons had quite a few thoughts as former high school and AAU basketball players. But, we recognized that we needed to sit down and organize our thoughts. Could anyone ask for a better excuse to go to one of the Dallas Metroplex’s best BBQ joints and have a meeting of the minds?
It took no arm twisting to have our discussion at a family favorite - Ten50 BBQ located in Richardson, TX off of 75 at 1050 N Central Expressway. As an aside, if you have an urge for fantastic BBQ, you can’t go wrong with Ten50. If they have Burnt Ends on the day you’re there, thank your lucky stars, order it and you’ll thank me.
But back to the discussion at hand. Or, should I say the column at hand.
This trade looks to have a lot of positives for both teams, but there is much higher risk with Los Angeles. On the positive side, the trade looks to make Los Angeles much more attractive to free agents. If the deal goes through at the end of July (as opposed to right away), it will give additional cap funds to both teams to fill out their 2019-2020 rosters. The Lakers will only have 5 players under contract – LeBron, Davis, Moritz Wagner, Kyle Kuzma, and Isaac Bonga, but with AD and LeBron together, the team is automatically a desired destination instead of just another free agency landing spot. Will the Lakers wait and see if they can sign Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker to go with the “Dynamic Duo”? Certainly, there are aging 3 and D players looking to prove a career isn’t over or younger 3 and D players trying to prove they aren’t underachievers who would be willing to sign deals and make a name for themselves. AD’s presence with LeBron will help these recruiting efforts. Los Angeles makes for a great backdrop to chasing titles.
This trade also lends much needed credibility to a franchise that had Magic Johnson resign and go on a media tour blasting the Lakers leadership. Having an extended and stumbling coaching search after the Walton firing didn’t help anything. Again, AD coming to LA helps put a massive band aid on a wounded franchise. Now, will Frank Vogel be able to coach to the level of his superstar nucleus?
On the negative side, will the Lakers be able to afford their own free agents such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee? You need to have a roster to win a title – and even though LeBron has proven able to win with unbalanced rosters at both Miami and Cleveland – this will prove a challenge, if free agency is not managed well. Finding affordable but talented players will not be an easy task. Certainly, one will not want LeBron to have too much influence as the negative effects of “LeBron Buddy” contracts of JR Smith and Tristan Thompson are playing havoc on the Cavaliers to this day.
For the Pelicans, it appears to be a pretty good deal, though it openly admits that past leadership receives nothing but failing marks for not being able to put an effective roster around former number one pick Anthony Davis. Getting a running mate for new number one pick Zion Williamson makes the number four pick a very attractive part of the deal. Whether it ends up being a rookie like De’Andre Hunter of Virginia (our consensus favorite), Jarett Culver of Texas Tech, or an established NBA star (if the pick is traded), this should help build quite a team around Zion Williamson. As it stands a lineup of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, De’Andre Hunter, Jrue Holiday, and Lonzo Ball gives both players and fans some hope for the future.
To add to that hope, besides this year’s number 4 pick, the Lakers 2021 pick will go to the Pelicans - if it is a top 8 pick. If not - it will be an unprotected pick to the Pelicans in 2021. There will also be a pick swap in 2023 and this is unprotected. The 2024 pick is also unprotected and the Pelicans can wait until 2025 to exercise this pick. That is a lot of risk for an Los Angeles team that has LeBron turning 35 in December. Remember he’s played more minutes than Michael Jordan did already. Only 5 players have averaged more than 25 points per game in a season at LeBron’s age or older. As an example, none are named Kareem, Shaq, Hakeem or Larry. If LeBron breaks down, or if Davis does, or God forbid both do at the same time - the draft picks could provide a bonanza for the Pelicans.
This deal – when coupled with the Thompson and Durant injuries suffered on Warriors during the unusually injury prone Finals series – opens up the league for many more teams than what we’ve seen over the last decade. The Raptors (assuming Leonard re-signs), the Clippers (if Leonard goes there), the Sixers (only one basket away from toppling the Raptors), the Celtics (looking at the 3 first round draft picks to go with a talented team), the Bucks (with Giannis ascending), the Nuggets (another up and coming team – maybe what the Pelicans will be in a year or two), the Rockets (deciding on keeping it together as Golden State won’t have both Durant and Thompson), and possibly the Warriors wanting to win it all with Klay returning for the playoffs (assuming he signs there) – all have legitimate plans to win the title next season. Few seasons have this amount of intrigue as the off season begins.
This deal also brings into focus two teams that need to decide what direction they’re going in – either stay the course, or plot a new one. The Celtics have been sitting on draft choices for what seems like years, but they haven’t been able to the land “the Man” in the draft, so to speak. Will they be able to find a true superstar lower in the draft? They need to hit on more than just role players to help put this team over the top. Making things even worse was their bad luck with Gordon Hayward’s injury. They’re paying top dollar for a player who has yet to show the talent that he had when signed has hurt them, in terms of on-the-court performance and his contract also limits them in free agent cap flexibility.
The other team that needs to figure out its path is the Sixers. They are built around a fantastic player - Ben Simmons – who can dol almost everything, except that he can’t shoot. At all. The Sixers also had to get rid of Markelle Fultz, who has been a failure to date – and they got pennies on the dollars for a former overall number one draft pick. Put Jayson Tatum (number three pick that same draft) on the Sixers and the offensive woes that afflict the team would be reduced drastically. Might they be champions today? To top it off - Joel Embiid- their high potential center, who can be dominant at times, is injury prone and is fragile at best. What will happen with Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler will also weigh heavily on the Sixers future. This team needs to find a way to support their two superstars with shrewd draft picks and free agent signings or be another team like the Washington Wizards that never sees tomorrow’s promise despite its once exciting prospects.
In the end, the Lakers have their shot to grab the brass ring again. LeBron may get to close the gap or pass up Kobe, Magic and maybe even Michael in rings. The Pelicans have a bright future that could get even brighter with some bad Laker luck and shrewd drafting. Finally, the rest of the NBA contenders find themselves in a place where they can legitimately make a run at the title.
Let the draft and free agency wheeling and dealing begin.
And the games will be fantastic come the start of the season.