It took four months, public humiliation and completely disrupting a team’s morale in the middle of a playoff run, but the Los Angeles Lakers have finally traded for Anthony Davis. From the moment the former New Orleans Pelicans star publicly requested a trade, the Lakers were deemed his preferred destination. But despite threats that he would not sign elsewhere, the Lakers still had to give up nearly their entire treasure chest of assets to acquire him.
What will follow for at least one more season and perhaps for much longer than that is fans and pundits asking the same question: Was it worth it?
No one truly knows what Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram can become. Both have shown flashes of brilliance, games where they have dominated on both ends of the floor regardless of their youth. They have also shown their major limitations, hindrances to teams that want to build around their talents.
No one knows what the number four overall pick in this draft will be. Or the 2022 unprotected first in the draft that could feature top high school athletes once again. Or the 2023 pick swap and the Pelicans’ choice of a 2024 or 2025 unprotected first.
It is clear, however, that regardless of all the questions surrounding Ball, Ingram and even Josh Hart, that the Pelicans received a bounty for a star that no longer wanted to be there. NBA superstars are never traded for equal value because they are far too good. They are rarely traded for fair value.
By the end of the negotiations between the two sides, it was becoming increasingly clear that the Lakers were bidding against themselves. The New York Knicks did not have enough to enamor the Pelicans. The Celtics were not willing to include enough with the uncertainty around Kyrie Irving and Davis’ repeated ultimatums that he would be a rental in Boston.
So why did the Lakers trade so much to get a player only they seemed to have a chance at getting?
Simply put: They had to.
Anthony Davis is, at worst, a top ten player in the NBA. At his peak, he can put his name in the running for the top athlete in the sport. With Kevin Durant sidelined for a year, Davis and LeBron James will create the most talented duo in the league next season.
The Lakers, meanwhile, were on borrowed time, having already wasted one year of LeBron in the purple and gold with faulty roster construction and a missed playoff berth. They were reportedly not favored to sign any of the numerous stars hitting free agency this summer.
Davis, at a minimum, gives LeBron a massively talented sidekick for the duration of his stay in Los Angeles. Even beyond James’ tenure, Davis could become the face of the franchise for years to come, ensuring that they will have something to sell future free agents on to keep the team relevant for the next decade.
Ultimately, the Lakers did not do anything special to get Davis. They were given a golden opportunity and they threw nearly everything they had to get him. What will ultimately decide if this trade was a win or not will be the decisions made following the trade.
Will the Lakers be able to secure the maximum possible cap space either by delaying the trade until the end of July or through some combination of trading their little depth left and convincing Davis to waive his trade kicker? If they do, will they pursue one of the available stars or will they opt to sign several strong role players to create a more balanced roster?
You can convince yourself that either option is the right one. The West is wide open; who is going to beat a team with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and a third star? But didn’t the Raptors just prove that sometimes having depth and quality players up and down your roster is more beneficial than multiple stars?
In 2010 when the Miami Heat signed their superstar trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, they had only one other player (Mario Chalmers) under contract. Veterans across the league will always be willing to jump aboard a team that has a shot at the title. Many times, they are willing to take discounts to do so. The real challenge is finding the right players that will fit the mold of the roster around those stars.
The Lakers failed to do that last year. They cannot afford to fail again this year.
Most people believe the Lakers overpaid to get Anthony Davis. That includes executives around the league, according to Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck.
Given the circumstances, they’re right. The Lakers did overpay and there’s really no other way to twist it. But overpaying for a generational talent does not necessitate that it was a loss. It only means that they better prove that it was worth it.
The ball is now firmly in Rob Pelinka’s court.
It’s his job to acquire second round picks and listen to a scouting department that has done a tremendous job of finding gems late in the draft.
It’s his job to maximize cap space by manipulating the timing of the trade and what pieces are sent out.
It’s his job to negotiate with free agents and convince them to take less money for a chance at a title in the wide-open NBA.
And most importantly, it’s his job to build a roster with depth that fits around his superstars and maximizes the championship window for arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport.
You cannot lose a trade in which you acquire a generational superstar that has been compared to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Garnett and all the other great big men before him, especially one who could lead your franchise for the next decade. But you certainly can fail to make it worthwhile. You can fail to maximize the potential.
The Lakers have not proven their ability to build a title team in the past year. It’s up to them to convince their fans that they made the correct decision.