Pelicans Agree to Trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers
[Want more basketball in your inbox? Sign up for Marc Stein’s weekly N.B.A. newsletter here.]
The Los Angeles Lakers’ storied penchant for acquiring elite big men when they need them most resurfaced Saturday when the glamorous but struggling franchise reached agreement on a trade to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans — thus pairing Davis, a six-time All Star, with LeBron James.
To make Davis their latest front-line centerpiece, the Lakers are sending a vast haul to New Orleans, featuring the prized guards Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart; forward Brandon Ingram; and three first-round draft picks, including the No. 4 selection in Thursday’s N.B.A. draft.
Yet the Lakers, after a humbling six consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, thought they had to surrender all those assets for the opportunity to unite James and Davis. Los Angeles must now hope that the two, under the new coach Frank Vogel, can mesh in a manner reminiscent of famed Lakers partnerships such as Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kobe Bryant alongside Shaquille O’Neal.
The trade, which cannot be completed before July 6 when the new salary-cap year begins in the N.B.A., was confirmed by two people with knowledge of the deal who were not authorized to discuss it publicly. ESPN first reported the teams’ agreement, which sets up Davis as the latest in a lineage of decorated Lakers power players that began with George Mikan in Minneapolis in the 1950s and has also featured Wilt Chamberlain, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in addition to Abdul-Jabbar and O’Neal.
The Lakers no doubt felt a great deal of urgency to trade for Davis after a hugely disappointing season, James’s first with the team and his first since 2005 without a trip to the playoffs. Los Angeles finished well out of contention with a 37-45 record after James missed a significant part of the second half of the season with a groin injury. The Lakers have also been engulfed in management chaos since Johnson abruptly stepped down as team president on April 9.
Johnson has been highly critical of the organization since his departure, but he congratulated Jeanie Buss, the embattled Lakers owner, and General Manager Rob Pelinka in a series of posts on Twitter on Saturday.
“Laker Nation, you wanted the great Jeanie Buss to step up and bring a championship team back to L.A. and she’s doing just that!” Johnson posted.
Amid the team’s trying season, James was still very productive when healthy, averaging 27.4 points, 8.3 assists and 8.5 rebounds in 55 games. But he is now preparing for his 17th season at age 34, and he has three years left on his contract with the Lakers, who want to maximize the time that he has left as one of the league’s best players.
With that in mind, the Lakers plan to make a strong push to sign Charlotte’s Kemba Walker when free agency begins on June 30, according to two people familiar with their plans who were not authorized to discuss them publicly.
The Lakers are expecting to have $28 million to $33 million in salary-cap space to pursue Walker to fill the void in their backcourt created by the departures of Ball and Hart. Walker, a three-time All-Star, has said he will give the Hornets first crack to re-sign him but is also expected to be pursued aggressively by the Dallas Mavericks as well as the Lakers.
James, a four-time N.B.A. most valuable player, still wants to vie for championships, and the race in the Western Conference next season may be fairly wide open as the Golden State Warriors — after three championships in the past five seasons — face unexpected uncertainty; Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, two members of their All-Star core, sustained devastating injuries in the N.B.A. finals.
Both players are bound for free agency, and while Thompson, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, is likely to re-sign with the Warriors, Durant will still have several suitors despite tearing his Achilles’ tendon in the finals. The Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors clinched that series on Thursday to prevent the Warriors from winning a third straight title.
Even as the finals were underway, the Lakers remained in the headlines, as they had all season. After hiring James’s agent, Rich Paul, shortly before the start of last season, Davis informed the Pelicans in late January that he wanted to be dealt ahead of the league’s February trade deadline and listed the Lakers as one of his preferred destinations. But the Pelicans, with Dell Demps heading their front office, rebuffed several overtures from the Lakers, choosing instead to keep Davis and weigh their options after the season.
Now the Lakers are surrendering numerous assets to get Davis in negotiations with David Griffin, who replaced Demps in May, but Los Angeles did manage to keep forward Kyle Kuzma out of the trade. The New York Times first reported last week that the Lakers were adamant about keeping Kuzma out of the deal.
Davis, the top overall pick in the 2012 draft, averaged 25.9 points and 12 rebounds with the Pelicans last season but was limited to 56 games because of injury. Although Davis, 26, can become a free agent in 2020, Paul has said repeatedly since February that the Lakers and Knicks are the only two teams Davis is interested in signing with long-term.
Those proclamations ultimately gave the Boston Celtics pause in their own trade talks with the Pelicans this week, clearing the way for the Lakers to finally complete the trade they have been chasing for five months. The Times first reported Saturday that the Celtics were unwilling to surrender their top young player, Jayson Tatum, in a Davis deal, fearing that Davis could walk away as a free agent in July 2020 with no compensation for the team.
The trade comes at a critical juncture for the Pelicans. Griffin had been on the job for about a month when the team had the good fortune of winning the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery, a pick it will almost assuredly use on Duke’s Zion Williamson, a phenomenal talent.
Williamson would immediately be surrounded by talent in New Orleans, with the Lakers sending three promising players, and three first-round picks, to the Pelicans in return for Davis.
Ball, 21, was the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft but had two injury-marred seasons with the Lakers. Last season, he averaged 9.9 points and 5.4 assists in 47 games. Ingram, 21, has revealed glimpses of brilliance as a lanky scorer, averaging 18.3 points while shooting 49.7 percent from the field before a blood clot in his right shoulder ended his season in March. Hart averaged 7.8 points last season.