Can the Lakers build a team around LeBron James and Anthony Davis?

Anthony Davis
December 21, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during a stoppage in play with New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) in the foreground during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Monday’s news that Anthony Davis was publicly requesting a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans sent the NBA world into a frenzy. The star big man is now officially available, even if the Pelicans reportedly don’t feel the need to adhere to his request by next week’s trade deadline.

What that means for the Los Angeles Lakers is that once again, they have the opportunity to make a move for a win-now player rather than remaining patient as the plan has always been.

In the last two years, the Lakers have had the chance to trade for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. They remained patient and did not send out all of their assets for either player and it can be argued that that backfired. George was traded to the Thunder and re-signed. Leonard was traded to the Raptors and seems likely to stay in Toronto.

Davis presents a different case, however. He is better and younger than both George and Leonard. He has requested his trade after the Lakers signed LeBron James. He is a Klutch client.

Once George re-signed in Oklahoma City, the Lakers’ plan became signing one star free agent in July and trading for another – namely, Davis – afterward. Davis’ trade request may change that timeline, even if the Pelicans do not feel the pressure to trade their franchise icon before the February 7th trade deadline.

The timing of Davis’ request, perhaps by design from agent Rich Paul, helps the Lakers out in two ways.

First, no one knows who will have the number one overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft with the right to acquire Duke stud Zion Williamson for the next seven years. Second, the Boston Celtics cannot get involved, unable to have Kyrie Irving and Davis on the same roster because both were signed to designated player extensions. Most experts believe Boston wants to pair Irving and Davis and would not trade the former to acquire the latter.

According to Yahoo’s Chris Haynes, Boston is not even a preferred destination for Davis. Philadelphia is reportedly not getting involved.

The timing and circumstances work perfectly for the Lakers. It gives them the opportunity hand-delivered on a purple and gold platter to strike and give James the second star he was promised.

The argument against making a win-now trade this season – be it for Davis, Bradley Beal or anyone else – has been the impact it would have on the Lakers cap sheet. But a look at some potential trade scenarios reveals it’s not as demanding of a situation as most would believe.

If the Lakers give the reported Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac and first-round picks offer (along with the necessary expiring picks), they could enter the summer with just under 26 million dollars. Swap Ball with Brandon Ingram and the number drops to $24.5 million. If they trade all the core members of the young core (Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and Josh Hart) for Davis, their potential cap space will jump to over $34 million.

(It should be noted that a third team is almost certainly needed for these trades to work. The Lakers lack big contracts to trade for Davis one-on-one and the Pelicans can’t take on multiple players for just one without going over the roster limit.)

Anthony Davis
Lonzo Ball could be the centerpiece of a package to acquire Anthony Davis Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Those are all significant figures for the summer. They mean that the Lakers could theoretically get enough cap space to sign another max free agent. The projected salaries of max players for the 2019-2020 season are $27.25 million for players with zero to six years of experience, $32.7 million with seven-plus years of experience and $38.15 million with ten-plus years of experience.

The Lakers could finagle some extra cap space by trading the likes of Moritz Wagner or cutting the nonguaranteed contract of Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk but those are the numbers they are effectively looking at. If one of Ingram or Ball is kept, he could be paired with draft picks for another trade in the summer for a disgruntled star in a different small market.

Even if the Lakers are not able to get enough space for a top-tier free agent (think Kevin Durant), they should be able to get enough for the next tier of free agents. Would the guarantee of James and Davis with a tertiary talent (let’s say Khris Middleton) be a more worthwhile endeavor than James and the possibility of Davis and a superstar free agent? Recent history tells us that it likely is.

At the end of the day, this is the best chance for the Lakers to do what they promised when Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka were hired and they traded a lottery pick for cap relief. The number of rivals in the running for Davis is limited. The leverage with the powerful agent exists. The NBA hasn’t fined them for tampering, yet.

It’s time for the Lakers to finally say to hell with patience and strike while the iron is hot. Get the next decade’s most dominant force in LA at all costs and figure out the rest later.

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