It took six months, one Dell Demps firing, four draft picks, three young stars, one David Griffin hiring, and a Magic Johnson exit interview for the Lakers and Pelicans to finally agree to terms on an Anthony Davis swap. In many ways, Saturday’s blockbuster trade was late on arrival. Maybe the 2018-19 season wouldn’t have been remembered as the beginning of LeBron James’s decline had Davis been moved before the trade deadline. Now that it’s finally set to happen, however, AD-to-L.A. seems right on time—early, even. Davis is verbally set to become a Laker, two full weeks before the free agency start date, giving the biggest players on the open market time to reconsider the franchise as a new home.
The Lakers’ draft assets will be under Pelicans control for the foreseeable future, and while Rob Pelinka and Co. are out a ton of young talent, the organization is finally appealing again. Weirdly, the Lakers are now experiencing life as a Los Angeles transplant: living the dream, for the small cost of nearly everything they had saved up. The Lakers likely aren’t finished with their summer makeover, though. Davis and LeBron are two-thirds of a Big Three just waiting to be formed and paraded. With the two biggest pillars in place, here are three of the most likely and most exciting candidates that could complete the trinity and bring back the gold in Purple and Gold:
Really, the possibility that Irving will reunite with LeBron has been in play since Kyrie told media members that he apologized to his former teammate in January. All recent reports, too, indicate that Irving is open to moving on from Boston, though it’s the East Coast that he’s been incessantly linked to. For months, it’s seemed like Irving has wanted to team up with Kevin Durant in New York, be it with the Knicks or the Nets. Durant’s Achilles injury in the Finals may have changed the pair’s reported plans. Now, with KD likely to be shelved for about a season, I doubt that Irving feels like spending any longer waiting on others to show up given how things unfolded in his second year with the Celtics.
According to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, LeBron had “optimism” that the Lakers could acquire Irving’s services, even before Davis joined the team; it helps that David Aldridge’s sources have been saying for months that Irving wants to play with Davis. Every Irving rumor, from the Knicks to the Nets to the Lakers, has this in common: He wants to play with the grown-ups again. But at what cost?
Irving will not be able to sign a max contract with the Lakers if Davis accepts his $4.1 million trade bonus, which would shrink L.A.’s possible cap space from $32.5 million to $27.8 million. Bringing Kyrie into the fold for the max is still possible, but the timing of the Davis trade would have to change dramatically. If that deal closes on July 6, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks and Zach Lowe, the Lakers won’t have the money for a max contract. However, if New Orleans agrees to delay closing until July 30, then Los Angeles can use the no. 4 pick—the one at the center of the AD trade—on a player of the Pelicans’ choosing, and “maintain their current level of space,” even with Davis’s trade bonus paid out. The question as it relates to Irving’s future, or the future of the other players on the list, is why the Pelicans would be willing to wait. And the answer, if New Orleans plans on flipping that pick, is that they aren’t.
If the Lakers can sign Walker, as The New York Times’ Marc Stein reports they’re trying, then he, LeBron, and Davis would make a Big Three composed of former small-market franchise heroes. From the outside, that’s the appeal for someone like Walker to walk away from Charlotte: Alongside Davis and LeBron, two of the NBA’s best, he’d be on a ready-made playoff team in one of the biggest markets in the world. While Walker has notched a handful of All-Star appearances himself, he’s never had exceptional talent around him.
Walker isn’t quite the 3-point shooter Irving is (he shot 35.6 percent last season and 35.7 on his career compared to Irving’s 40.1 percent last season and career 39 percent). But any star point guard is a win for the Lakers, who, after dealing Lonzo Ball, have Alex Caruso as the next man up.
Thanks to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, who reported that the Lakers are pursuing Kawhi Leonard, and to Kawhi’s sister and cousin, who are as online as Kawhi is off the grid, we can imagine Kawhi in a Lakers jersey as a real possibility.
On Instagram, Kawhi’s cousin asked “LA 2020?”; Kawhi’s sister, Miesha, liked the post and commented with a highly elusive side-eyes emoji. His family didn’t even wait for the Raptors’ celebration parade to begin on Monday morning before posting Kawhi in a Photoshopped Lakers jersey. It’s par for the course: His entire season in Toronto has been dubbed over with Los Angeles talk. During Kawhi’s Finals MVP ceremony, even, sideline reporter Doris Burke asked about free agency, to which he answered that he’ll think about it later. (Is it later now?)
Kawhi is the top all-around player on this list; defensively, he’s one of the best in the league, while Irving and Walker are better off hidden on that end. Adding Kawhi wouldn’t fill the point guard position, which might seem like a glaring hole in the Lakers’ roster, but positions aren’t as restrictive in today’s league, which favors defensive versatility and is comfortable with non-guards bringing the ball up the floor, both of which are skills that Kawhi has. He’s an explosive scorer who took a frozen franchise where it—and the NBA—had never been before, to a Finals in Canada. This could be the beginning of Kawhi’s career as the league’s version of the Bar Rescue man. Adding Kawhi would give the Lakers three of the seven best players in the world; it’d be the biggest possible Big Three the Lakers could create.