The Los Angeles Lakers will acquire All-NBA big man Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans. The price was Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, the no. 4 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, and additional picks. Here we break down the winners and losers of this blockbuster trade.
Winner: Anthony Davis
Justin Verrier: For almost seven years, we groaned that Anthony Davis didn’t have enough help. Davis quickly solidified himself as one of the best talents in the league—perhaps even in league history—but the Pelicans’ get-wins-quick approach left him without a running mate befitting his prodigious gifts. As good as Jrue Holiday is, he’s never been an All-Star in New Orleans. Almost as fast as he ascended, Davis’s career became a story of wasted youth rather than one proclaiming him the next big thing. It consumed him, and ultimately drove him to force his way out of New Orleans—even if it meant throwing the Pelicans under the bus and his reputation in a woodchipper.
Now Davis will have everything he wanted: not just a superstar teammate, but the one he and everyone in his camp expects to take his career, and his image, to the next level. LeBron is unlike anyone Davis has ever played with, both in terms of ability and personality. James’s otherworldly passing, IQ, and freight-train drives should help unlock the few skills Davis has yet to master—his 3-point shooting, in particular. And James’s domineering leadership style should allow Davis to slink into the background and let his play do the talking, which is the role he’s always been best-suited for.
The carnival that Davis created in New Orleans this season overshadowed how brilliant his game is. Davis has never shied away from saying that he can be the best player in the NBA, and he has all of the tools to do it. Now he has the chance to prove it, and to make sure it’s the only thing people can say about him.
Winner: Lakers Exceptionalism
Chris Ryan: I moved to Los Angeles in 2012, and it’s felt like I’ve been riding shotgun to collective delusion ever since. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t live here just how palpable Lakers Exceptionalism is. You can practically taste how much they think they deserve the very best talent in the NBA. You can hear it on sports radio, when some guy named Ron from Gardena calls in asking why Klay Thompson hasn’t pledged his future allegiance to the purple and gold. You can read it in Twitter posts from users with Kobe Bryant avatars. Hell, Lakers Exceptionalism was Magic Johnson’s two-word front office philosophy. It’s also been one of the most reliable providers of comic relief over the years. Even when it proves to be real, it still somehow goes off the rails. The Lakers landed LeBron last summer—a signing that seemed like a divine decree handed down from on high—and still managed to Laker it up.
Well, goodbye to all that. Let’s just write it out so we really believe it: The Lakers signed LeBron James last summer, and traded for Anthony Davis this summer. Despite their own Veep-esque front office, the Lakers are now primed to return to the NBA mountaintop. Maybe there’s something to exceptionalism? Or maybe there’s just something to Rich Paul.
Winners: Rich Paul and LeBron James
Verrier: For all the hand-wringing and blog posts that Paul and James’s power plays have produced over the years, Team Klutch always seems to get their way. They held out Tristan Thompson until the Cavs overpaid him. They rescued Eric Bledsoe from a Phoenix salon and forced a trade to the Bucks. And now their masterpiece: Four months after blowing up the NBA and the rest of Davis’s and the Pelicans’ 2018-19 season, they finally got the six-time All-Star to the Lakers.
Paul basically becomes the NBA’s Scott Boras with this trade, and gains even more control over the Lakers than he had before. But James is the bigger winner. In the weeks after the trade deadline, simply playing out the string for James’s last remaining prime years was a very real possibility. The Lakers’ best prospects all had medical red flags, and none of the star free agents seemed to be jumping at the opportunity to attach the prime of their careers to a 34-year-old, even one as historically productive as James. Davis’s arrival not only reopens his title window, it gives him the best teammate he’s ever had. There’s still much to be determined this offseason, on the Lakers’ roster and in the Western Conference, but with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson now doubtful for much of next season, James-AD instantly becomes the best twosome in the conference—if not the entire league.
Losers: Dell Demps and Magic Johnson
Ryan: There’s no punch line … that’s the whole joke. OK, we can spell it out: Johnson and Demps oversaw the comically inept, leak-addled, time-sucking, embarrassingly public first attempt at getting Davis into a Lakers jersey back in the beginning of 2019. In the aftermath of that faceplant of a non-transaction, both executives left their teams—Demps was fired and Johnson quit in spectacular fashion. And now, here we are, months later, and the deal is … essentially the same? Sure, circumstances have drastically changed. Since the first trade talks, the Pelicans hit on the first pick in the draft, the Lakers landed the fourth, David Griffin replaced Demps, and Davis more or less doubled down on his desire to be dealt. But it’s still amazing to think about what a clown show we witnessed in February, and what it cost Johnson and Demps, only to arrive at more or less the same place.
Winner: The Pelicans, League Pass Darlings
Paolo Uggetti: If you’re going to lose a top-five player, there are worse ways to recover than by making your team a young, asset-heavy League Pass darling with an impossibly high ceiling. That’s exactly what David Griffin and the Pelicans just did. Sure, they lose a transcendent talent to a fellow Western Conference team, but they gain enough potential in return to be a playoff team next season. Think of the lineup: Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball in the backcourt will make opposing point guards pull a Paul Pierce. Ingram’s status given his cardiovascular diagnosis is worrisome, but if he’s healthy like all reports seem to indicate, watching him continue to grow alongside a couple of savvy guards will be a blast. And then, of course, there’s Zion. Without him the Pelicans would be intriguing, but not exactly appealing. With him, they are a highlight reel ready to come to life.
Think of the lobs from Lonzo to Zion; the nicknames alone will be great. I’m toying with a Kevin Harlan call that goes something like, “From Zo to Zi!” Think of the suffocating defensive potential, and the way Alvin Gentry will make them fly up and down the court and tire out teams before they even get a chance to stop Zion in the paint. And yes, it is probably too much to expect Zion to be immediately amazing but now he’s going to the perfect situation. He won’t have to carry a team, instead getting to let the game come to him before he hits the league with a hammer.
If getting the no. 1 pick was a karmic blessing for the Pelicans, this trade is cashing in on their misfortunes in the best possible way. According to Woj, they’re not done yet, looking to deal the no. 4 pick for what could be a bigger return. Having Zion on a rookie deal is the time to strike, and so far they have set themselves up to do just that. It’s an opportunity that has, at the very least, all the makings to be the best watch in the league. Just get rid of King Cake Baby, please.
Loser: The Boston Celtics
Ryan: In 2013—after dealing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets for three first-round picks and a handful of spare parts—Boston looked primed to become the major transactional player for the rest of the decade, with an eye toward building the kind of superteam that won them the title in 2008. They’ve certainly made a lot of noise, but you’d be hard-pressed to say they lived up to expectations. Kyrie Irving has come and likely gone, Gordon Hayward still looks a ways away from his past glories, and they’ve missed out on Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard. Now their rivals in Los Angeles have landed Anthony Davis. This isn’t an “are we sure Danny Ainge is good?” troll job—Boston has one of the best coaches in the league, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have the potential to be one of the most dynamic wing duos—but … there aren’t really any more guys for the Celtics to pursue, right? They either failed to land or keep a generation of All-NBA talent. For years, we’ve been hearing about how nobody had a better war chest than Ainge. But what did it get him?
Loser: The Rest of the West
Uggetti: Of course LeBron wasn’t just going to sit idly by, producing movies and hanging out at Bronny’s games. He was going to try to win another ring. Now, he’s even better positioned than we could have ever thought. It’s not just that the Lakers got what they wanted by finally prying Davis away from New Orleans. It’s that what just transpired in the Finals makes them arguably one of the favorites going into next season. Or even, according to Vegas, the favorite. Without Klay Thompson for most of next season and Kevin Durant for all of next season (should they both even re-sign with Golden State), the Warriors are a Steph Curry injury away from missing the playoffs. The West, we thought, was about to be wide open. Well, about that.
The Lakers now have two of the best five to seven players in the league on their team, plus the very likely possibility that another star will join them via free agency. Who wouldn’t want to play with a LeBron-Davis combo? Which veterans wouldn’t take less money to ring-chase with them? That’s bad news for the rest of the West, especially the teams who have been building slowly like Denver, and the ones who thought they were right on the cusp like Houston. Sure, there’s still a lot to be determined with the rest of the Lakers’ roster, which currently has only five players under contract, but they finally got the star they wanted to pair with LeBron. That should make it easier for the rest of the dominoes to fall. Down goes one superteam, up comes the possibility of another. Somewhere, Mike D’Antoni, the Blazers backcourt, and Sam Presti are all sighing.
Winner: Kyle Kuzma, Loser: Josh Hart
Uggetti: Lonzo Ball may be the born-and-bred L.A. kid, the one who got to play out his hometown dream for at least a couple years, but Kyle Kuzma knows how to play the game better than all. Amid trade talks and rumors, Kuzma has been out here posting pictures with Jeanie Buss, representing the team at the lottery, and not talking to the media about the dysfunction of this season, while also making himself as Showtime-ready as he could, even if he isn’t from Hollywood. It worked. In the end, it seemed like he was the favorite child, not only of the franchise but of LeBron, too. While Ball got sent to New Orleans alongside the rest of the Lakers’ young core, it’s Kuzma who will remain in purple and gold. Even Jordan Clarkson paid his respects. Pour one out for Josh Hart, who went on a media spree recently, ranted about analytics, and said that if the Lakers drafted a guard he would “bust his ass.” Seems like he won’t get to do that anymore.
When the news surfaced earlier this week that Kuzma could be the holdup in trade talks, it seemed absurd. But now that the deal is done and the Lakers got what they wanted, it is a win not just for Kuzma, who gets to keep living in L.A., but for the Lakers, who need shooting and size, both of which Kuzma provides. Pairing LeBron and Davis with Kuzma makes sense. In this iteration of the team, Kuzma becomes a stretch big who simply has to be a more consistent shooter (he’s gonna get a whole lot of open looks) as well as a serviceable defender. The spotlight will only grow from here on out, but if any young Laker seemed ready to embrace it, it was Kuzma all along.