For the time being, it appears as though talks between the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans are dead. The two franchises spent the better part of the last week negotiation over a trade that would send Anthony Davis to Los Angeles. However, amid reports that discussions had been one-sided and the Pelicans were not making counter-offers, the Lakers have reportedly pulled out of those discussions two days before the deadline.
If Davis does not find his way to Southern California either before the deadline or during the summer, it would mark the third time since Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took over the Lakers’ front office that the team has been unable to acquire a player whose reported preferred destination was LA.
First, Paul George forced his way out of Indiana and the Lakers were unable to outbid the Oklahoma City Thunder, who managed to re-sign the All-Star forward. Then, Kawhi Leonard requested a trade from the San Antonio Spurs who effectively declined to negotiate with the Lakers.
The Pelicans situation is eerily similar to that of the Spurs and not just because Gregg Popovich reportedly gave them advice on how to handle it. As Bill Oram of The Athletic noted on Silver Screen and Roll’s The Lake Show podcast, teams have generally shied away from helping the Lakers build their superteam:
“I’ve always been pretty skeptical. I don’t think the Pelicans have any incentive to make a deal with the Lakers at this point. I mean there’s obviously the question of how much they value the Lakers’ young guys, which I think is an unknown around the league, but then also the fact that teams are definitely reluctant to help the Lakers construct a super team. I mean there is a really strong aversion to that idea when you’ve have Magic Johnson get fined twice in a very short time. I think there has been a sort of distaste for the way the Lakers have done some of their business since they’ve taken over, and so the idea of the Lakers coming back to dominance with Rich Paul kind of helping negotiate that deal turns a lot of people off. I think that is a real thing the Lakers are dealing with, but if they can put together the best package I think they’ll ultimately prevail. I just think there are too many good possibilities out there for the Pelicans that also help them save the face of not giving the Lakers everything they want.”
It’s important to note that Oram isn’t really reporting here but as a beat writer for the team, he knows inside information that most people do not.
It’s also not the most shocking revelation. The Lakers, rightly or wrongly, have been involved in multiple tampering investigations since Johnson became the president of basketball operations. They employ the best player in the world and by proxy are connected to the most powerful agent in basketball. Their own general manager was once a shrewd agent.
What all this means is that the Lakers are going to have an incredibly difficult time building a super team around LeBron James while he is in his prime. More importantly, it means that Johnson and Pelinka have to be much more intelligent and efficient in the margins, something they have not exactly proven they can do quite yet.
If all goes well, the team may be able to sign a second star in the offseason even without Davis, be it Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant or someone else. But even if they do, can they build a contender around their star duo? Can they then pool their assets into trading for a third star? Can they utilize the remainder of their money smartly enough to sign the right players to surround them?
That all remains to be seen but it is a cause for concern for now.