On Tuesday, Anthony Davis became eligible to sign a four-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers. Predictably, he declined to do so as he is set to make much more money by first becoming a free agent in July. The news created headlines but was ultimately a trivial transaction that was expected.
What may be more interesting regarding the superstar big man is another report about what kind of contract Davis is likely to sign in the off-season. Everyone within and outside the Lakers organization think that he will be returning to LA despite hitting free agency. But according to Bill Oram of The Athletic, he may do so without signing the five-year contract worth over $200 million that he is eligible for.
“Some inside the Lakers anticipate Davis might pass on a five-year contract in favor of a three-year deal with a player option in the third year, similar to the contract Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers last summer. That would allow Davis to hit free agency in 2022, when he would be just 29, and still in his prime, and James would be 37 going on 38.”
In signing a three-year deal, Davis would be accomplishing a few things. First, he would maximize his earnings by hitting free agency once again before turning 30. The NBA’s revenue and cap has trended upwards every year, meaning max contracts become more valuable with each passing season. Hitting free agency more frequently means signing new contracts at higher figures.
Secondly, Davis would be able to put some pressure on the Lakers to continue surrounding him with the requisite talent to compete for titles, particularly once LeBron James retires. James himself famously did this nearly every year in his second stint with the Cavaliers; it made sure that the threat of him leaving would keep Cleveland’s pocket book open.
Of course, Davis would be getting on himself and taking a slight risk by not signing for the maximum amount of years. One devastating injury could presumably cost him tens of millions of dollars. We’ve seen both sides of that coin with DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles and ACL injuries have made him a veteran minimum salary player) and Kevin Durant who just signed a max contract after tearing his Achilles.
Again, it should be noted that none of this is necessarily bad news for the Lakers. It doesn’t mean he is any more likely to leave the franchise as a free agent either this summer or in the near future. They would prefer to lock him down for five years and let the increasing cap create space for them but as a star player he should be attempting to maximize his earnings, especially after waiving a trade kicker to facilitate his move to LA.
There’s still a long way to go until July and hopefully a Lakers championship will add to the list of reasons for Davis to re-sign in Los Angeles. Until then, it will be a very slight possibility that he walks away but none of the transactional news sways that decision one way or another.