Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly deep into talks with the New Orleans Pelicans about trading for Anthony Davis.
This time, though, there’s reason to think the Lakers won’t strike out in painfully public fashion. In fact, a deal could well come together fairly quickly, particularly if Los Angeles is willing to meet the asking price of David Griffin, New Orleans’s recently hired head of basketball operations.
According to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, the sticking point could be Kyle Kuzma. The newspaper cited people familiar with the trade discussions in reporting that while New Orleans “covets Kuzma the most” out of the players on offer, Los Angeles “does not want to trade” the young forward, who has “ingratiated himself with the organization both on the court and off.”
ESPN also reported that the Lakers are “trying to hold on” to Kuzma, while proposing a package “centered on” forward Brandon Ingram and guard Lonzo Ball.
Both ESPN and the New York Times, citing league sources, reported that the No. 4 pick in next week’s draft would also be a part of the trade, but that the Pelicans would want a third team to take the pick and send them an established player whom they highly regard.
New Orleans could be motivated to make a deal before next week’s draft, particularly if it ends up accepting the No. 4 pick as part of a trade or a different pick in a trade with another team. ESPN reported that the Boston Celtics are also in negotiations for Davis, despite comments from his agent that they would only be sure of having him for one season before Davis hit the open market.
“They can trade for him, but it’ll be for one year,” Rich Paul said in remarks published Wednesday by Sports Illustrated. “I mean: If the Celtics traded for Anthony Davis, we would go there and we would abide by our contractual [obligations] and we would go into free agency in 2020. I’ve stated that to them."
Paul is also LeBron James’s agent and close friend, and Davis has been reported to have the Los Angeles high on his list of potential destinations, including the possibility of joining the Clippers. Other teams eyed by Davis, per The Athletic, include the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks.
Boston’s willingness to take a risk in trading for Davis, per ESPN, stems from its desire to keep all-star guard Kyrie Irving from bolting this summer. The Athletic cited league sources in reporting Wednesday that Irving was not going to exercise the opt-in clause in his Celtics contract, thus enabling him to become a free agent, but the potential addition of his close friend might convince him to re-sign with Boston.
Irving has increasingly been linked to the Brooklyn Nets, and other reports Wednesday will hardly quell that speculation. According to ESPN, he has fired his longtime agent, Jeff Wechsler, and is set to replace him with Roc Nation Sports, an agency founded by hip-hop superstar and New York native Jay-Z, who had to sell off his ownership stake in the Nets to do so.
The Nets, if they are confident of landing Irving, would have all the more reason to pursue Davis themselves, but Brooklyn has not been able to “gather traction” in talks with New Orleans. Nor have the Clippers, per ESPN.
As for the Knicks, they could one-up the Lakers’ No. 4 pick with their own No. 3 selection in the draft, but they would face the same challenge of bringing in a third team to turn the pick into a player the Pelicans want. In addition, New Orleans is reportedly not as enthused about New York’s array of young talent, including Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Dennis Smith Jr.
All that could have the effect of putting the Lakers in the driver’s seat for a Davis trade. Their fans could only have been heartened by other comments Paul made to Sports Illustrated, including an assertion that even if the Lakers did not have James, they would be “a great destination” for Davis, if only because of their stellar lineage of big men “from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaq.”
“So now, when you add LeBron, that’s what? The cherry on top,” Paul added. “LeBron’s 34 years old. Anthony Davis is 26. So when LeBron’s done playing, the Anthony Davis trade is still rolling. What better place to do it than L.A.?”
If the reports on the back-and-forth over Kuzma are accurate, it’s hard to imagine that the Lakers would ultimately let him get in the way acquiring a transformative superstar. Davis would immediately create a formidable tandem with James and the Lakers might have enough salary-cap room left to add a solid complementary piece.
The Lakers have all the more incentive to make a deal with the Pelicans because of how their talks in February wound up leaking. Those negotiations appeared to indicate that some combination of all of the Lakers’ young players were on the table, which reportedly created tension in the locker room.
As it turned out, the Lakers’ season degenerated into a disaster in which president of basketball operations Magic Johnson abruptly quit, coach Luke Walton was fired and James personally missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
Snaring Davis could instantly lift much of the cloud that has hung over the storied franchise and turn it into a contender next season. That said, NBA fans could be forgiven for thinking they’ll only believe the Lakers have traded for Davis when they see him actually donning the purple-and-gold.
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