Timing is key to Anthony Davis trade!
Why the Lakers need to trade for Anthony Davis before using their cap space to sign a free agent superstar next summer
The ability of Anthony Davis and the Lakers to control his destination and trade value and force the Pelicans to trade him this summer depends entirely on the threat they can acquire him for nothing as a free agent next summer.
Anthony Davis demanding a trade to the Lakers this summer will only work if Lakers have the cap space to sign him as a free agent next summer to limit the number of competitors and decrease his trade value to that of a 1-year rental. That leverage disappears the minute the Lakers use up their cap space to sign a superstar in free agency next summer, which means the Lakers must have a deal already in hand with the Pelicans before free agency begins on July 1st.
That’s where Anthony Davis signing changing agents and signing with Rich Paul and Klutch Sports becomes a factor because it gives the Lakers and AD the opportunity to get their ducks in a row and take control of the situation. Assuming the Pelicans continue to flounder and are out of the playoff picture, Davis will need to publicly announce at some point before the trade deadline that he wants to be traded to the Lakers and will only re-sign with them.
While the Lakers would love to trade for Davis before the February 7th trade deadline, the Pelicans are likely to resist pulling the trigger on any AD trade until this summer when the Celtics would then become eligible to sign him. But if the Pelicans continue to struggle and the playoffs become a pipe dream, New Orleans will have no option but to trade Anthony Davis this summer and the Lakers should be able to offer the best package of young talent and picks.
The big question is what would be an acceptable trade for Anthony Davis? There’s an argument to be made that the Lakers should be willing to give up anything for the rare opportunity to pair Anthony Davis with LeBron James, especially since they would still have the cap space to sign a third superstar. As long as the Lakers and AD keep control of the situation, it’s unlikely any team would beat a package of two of the Lakers’ four young stars plus picks.
Should the Lakers sign a second superstar in free agency before completing a trade for Anthony Davis, however, their chances of trading for him decrease dramatically as the Lakers would not be able to sign him as a free agency. Bottom line, signing Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, or Klay Thompson would likely cost the Lakers any chance of acquiring Anthony Davis. They wouldn’t have the best trade package nor the cap space to sign him as a free agent.
The big challenge for the Lakers comes if the Pelicans decide not to trade AD to them out of spite or because the Celtics or another NBA team gambles they can convince him to re-sign like the Thunder did with PG and outbids them. The Lakers would then need to reassess the situation and decide either to retain their cap space to sign Davis as a free agent the following summer or give up on acquiring him and use their cap space to sign KD, Kawhi, or Klay.
Personally, if Anthony Davis was still committed to signing with the Lakers summer of 2020, I’d be seriously temped to save cap space to wait for him. He’s younger and is a better fit functionally and positionally with LeBron. Frankly, there’s a good chance waiting to sign AD as a free agent could end up being the Lakers’ fall back plan if the current rumors prove to be true and Durant, Leonard, or Thompson aren’t interested in signing with the Lakers.
Finally, trading for Anthony Davis this summer would clearly make the Lakers a more attractive destination for a third superstar and could also change the superstar whom the Lakers choose to pursue in free agency. There’s an argument an elite two-way player like Khris Middleton could fit better playing next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis than a third ball dominant superstar like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, or Klay Thompson.
If the Lakers had to give up Ingram and Kuzma for AD but were able to keep Ball and Hart. They could roll out at a dynamic two-way starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, LeBron James, Khris Middleton, and Anthony Davis. They would still have some bench pieces with upside in Wagner, Bonga, and Mykhailiuk and could hopefully still retain McGee and maybe add Ariza. That’s a team I think could win championships even after LeBron retires.
I think Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have to be prioritizing acquiring Anthony Davis to pair with LeBron James. If they can trade for him, great. If not, I would wait for him. It’s about getting the ‘right’ superstar for LeBron.