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Lakers agree to acquire Anthony Davis in blockbuster trade
Address: Hollywood Bowl
Phone: 323533424
By: KYLE GOON   |  Email: kgoon@scng.com

After seemingly endless drama, wary negotiations and a season that ended in turmoil, the Lakers have pulled off the mega-deal that’s been talked about for months.

Though later than they might have liked, the A.D. Era has begun in Los Angeles.

The New Orleans Pelicans have agreed to ship off star forward Anthony Davis, a six-time All-Star, to the Lakers for a hefty price: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round draft picks, including the No. 4 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. A source close to the team confirmed the deal, first reported by ESPN, to the Southern California News Group. The trade cannot be officially completed until July, when teams can begin operating under next season’s salary cap.

While the risk is considerable – the Lakers are betting Davis will choose to stay in Los Angeles when his contract expires in 2020 – the reward might just be worth it. In what NBA observers have dubbed as perhaps the most significant trade for a star in his prime since the Lakers acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 45 years ago, getting Davis for the next year alongside LeBron James forms the foundation of what the Lakers hope is a team that can return to championship-level contention after six consecutive seasons out of the playoffs.

The trade has been discussed since January, when Davis publicly announced his desire to be traded from the only pro franchise he’s ever known. While talks fell flat at the February trade deadline, they reheated in the past few weeks as new power brokers took over for the respective teams.

It’s one of the biggest trades the Lakers have ever made and one that is certain to define the controversial tenure of General Manager Rob Pelinka, who took over basketball operations in April after team president Magic Johnson resigned. It fulfills the organization’s vision of pairing two All-NBA superstars on the same roster – a vision it has touted since Pelinka entered the team’s front office in 2017.

It’s also a bold start to new Pelicans executive David Griffin’s tenure: The unabashed flirtations between Davis and the Lakers touched a nerve for many New Orleans fans, which isn’t likely to quickly heal despite the package the team received back. The Pelicans now hold the No. 1 and No. 4 picks in the upcoming draft, though ESPN reported Griffin was already seeking a trade for the Lakers’ pick.

Since being drafted first overall in 2012, Davis has largely lived up to the expectations that have rested upon his 6-foot-10 frame. He’s become one of the league’s surest double-double men and a scorer from all levels (25.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.4 bpg) and his defensive prowess has helped make him a six-time All-Star and the third-place candidate for league MVP last season.

There’s one area in which he’s been short: winning. Davis has made the postseason just twice in seven seasons in New Orleans, and he won his first playoff series, a sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in 2018.

The Lakers are coming off a disappointing season themselves, winning just 37 games and failing to make the playoffs. For James, it was the first time since 2005 he missed the postseason,fueling criticism of the Lakers’ roster construction last summer and adding sting to the bevy of injuries the team suffered.

The connection between James, 34, and Davis has been hotly discussed since September when Davis hired Rich Paul, James’ agent and close friend. James added juice to the subplot when he told ESPN in November it would be “amazing” and “incredible” if he could play with Davis. James raised eyebrows and fanned flames when he selected Davis to his All-Star squad on Feb. 7, the day of the trade deadline when talks had fizzled.

The cost of Davis and trying to win next season was trading in the future: Between Ingram, Ball and the No. 4 pick this year, the Lakers surrendered three former or future lottery picks. Ingram and Ball were once considered the nucleus of the Lakers’ future, and team’s previous attempts to pry them away in trade talks (most notably Kawhi Leonard) had fallen flat. Both ended this season with injuries but showed improvement – particularly Ingram, who played his best stretch of basketball after the All-Star break before being sidelined by a blood clot that required surgery. In two seasons with the Lakers, Josh Hart had also cultivated esteem as a rotation player in the lineup, despite struggling with a knee injury for much of this past year.

The one member of the team’s so-called “young core” the Lakers retained was Kyle Kuzma, who became a starter in his second season (18.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and vastly outplayed his end-of-the-first-round draft slot when he entered the league in 2017. Kuzma also has the most salary-cap friendly contract of the four players, due to make just under $2 million next season.

The Lakers’ most visible competition for Davis was the Boston Celtics. ESPN reported that the Lakers’ longtime East Coast rivals essentially withdrew themselves from the running once it was clear they didn’t want to include forward Jayson Tatum in a deal.

The cutthroat Western Conference could be in for a dramatic shakeup this offseason: Golden State, the class of the West for five seasons running, suffered significant injuries to stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson during its six-game loss to Toronto in the Finals. With lengthy recovery timelines and Durant’s pending free agency, the Warriors’ dynasty might be as vulnerable as ever, and a star-laden Lakers team could be well-poised to leap into contention with a strong offseason haul once free agency starts June 30.

For the Lakers, the deal could not come at a better time: The franchise has been roiled in drama since the season ended April 9, headlined by Johnson’s dramatic resignation. A tortured coaching search, in which the team eventually selected Frank Vogel, and Johnson’s public accusations of Pelinka’s “backstabbing” have hurt the perception of the Lakers’ stability, which Pelinka and Vogel have vigorously defended.

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The Lakers still have ample room this summer to chase free agents to fill out their roster, but the sequence of the trade will affect how much space under the salary cap they’ll have. Davis has a $4 million trade kicker that he can choose to waive. The timing of the deal is also essential: If the Lakers can convince the Pelicans to wait until July 30 to complete the trade, the No. 4 pick will count as salary in the deal, and the Lakers could clear as much as $32.4 million under their salary cap – just enough to sign a third max free agent.

The New York Times reported the Lakers were expected to target All-Star guard Kemba Walker in free agency should they clear a max slot. The Lakers themselves have also emphasized that they will be looking for shooting during free agency.

Lakers agree to acquire Anthony Davis in blockbuster trade

By: KYLE GOON
E-Mail:
kgoon@scng.com
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