The Anthony Davis sweepstakes are open and the Pelicans are taking offers. We’ve actually known this for a few days, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers and Celtics are bidding against each other (this is important and we’ll get back to it later) and according to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, the Lakers are back at offering up most of their young players:
More from Stein:
Oh? Well, that’s interesting.
We’re not done yet, though. Because Tania Ganguli and Brad Turner of the LA Times are also reporting that the Pelicans want more because of course they do.
The Lakers are trying to trade for New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis again, and whether or not they are able to nab him could hinge on how willing they are to part with their young stars — one in particular.
The Pelicans are interested in three of the Lakers’ young players — whether that’s Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma or Josh Hart — and the No. 4 draft pick in order to acquire Davis, according to people familiar with the trade discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly because of the fluidity of the situation. It’s possible New Orleans could use the No. 4 pick to acquire a player from a third team.
Among the current young Lakers, New Orleans covets Kuzma the most.
According to people familiar with the Lakers’ thinking, Kuzma has ingratiated himself with the organization both on the court and off, and management does not want to trade the forward, who is entering his third season.
I think there’s two ways to take this reporting.
- The Lakers really value Kuzma and are trying to keep him out of the deal at all costs.
- The Lakers are attempting (at least somewhat) to inflate Kuzma’s value by noting how much they want to keep him, to the point of talking up the (very real) ways he’s shown the team how hard he works and how willing he is to be a “face” of the franchise.
If you believe #1, that’s fine. I can kind of believe that too. Kuzma’s a fine young prospect, is on a really cheap rookie contract, and has, as Ganguli/Turner note, ingratiated himself to the Lakers. He’s also a nice fit offensively next to LeBron and Anthony Davis so you don’t have to worry as much about slotting him into effective offensive lineups.
I, however, believe #2 more. The Lakers are trying to trade for Anthony Davis and pair him with LeBron James. They’re also trying to keep as much talent as they can and will grab at whatever leverage they can, even if they have to try to manufacture that leverage first.
My read on this is that the Lakers are trying to equate Lonzo/Ingram/Kuzma as very similar in value. And, if they’re able to establish this premise, they’ll next attempt to pivot to “you can have two, but not all 3” and then add on “you’re also getting the #4 pick — or whatever we can turn that into”. If it then also takes Hart, it takes Hart too.
Some might scoff at this approach. They might think it’s too much to give up. And maybe it would be. After all, a deal’s not done and this is me just speculating. But, at least on this specific nugget of information regarding Kuzma, that’s my read. I think the Lakers are actually trying to keep one of Ingram/Lonzo/Kuzma and, if I gave them truth serum, I’d bet they’re looking to keep one of the guys they drafted at #2 overall; one of the guys who has a two way ceiling that outpaces the more one-way ceiling of Kuzma.
Regarding the rest of the reporting, I’ll simply say this: if what Ganguli and Stein are reporting about the Pelicans preferences — that they want 3 young players + either the #4 pick or a veteran talent the #4 pick nets them via a trade — that a deal is relatively close. Or at least closer than the reporting implies. There’s still work to be done and hurdles to cross. And, I should type this in all caps because of how important it is, deals fall apart at the 1-yard line all the damn time. So, even if they advance further than they are now, that still doesn’t mean something will get done. I’ll believe it when it’s announced.
Let’s get back to the Celtics for a second. Boston being involved shouldn’t surprise even if Woj was just on Sportscenter on Tuesday saying he thought the C’s would pivot away from a Davis deal due to uncertainty about Kyrie Irving. Whatever the Celtics think of Kyrie internally, losing him for nothing would sting. Keeping him, even if only for another season (or long enough to keep Davis happy enough to resign) is a value proposition worth taking on. Celtics fans may not like Kyrie now, but they’ll love him if he delivers Davis long term.
What the Celtics are willing to offer, however, is another story. Is Jayson Tatum on the table? If he is, would Jaylen Brown be included too? The costs could get that steep, especially if the Lakers are including Lonzo/Ingram/#4 pick. The intel around this is soft right now, but we should put nothing past Ainge — even him acting like he wants to make a deal even if he really doesn’t just to get the Lakers offer up. It’s chess, not checkers.
Sniffing all of this out, too, should be a priority for the Lakers. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: free agency and trade time = lying season. Leaks will come left and right and the information in them should almost always be viewed with a certain amount of skepticism simply because the information only gets out because someone with that information wants us to know it. The public consumption of that information influences narrative and down the rabbit hole we go. Tread carefully. I’m saying that to you and to myself, by the way.
Lastly, understand that the Lakers are, for better or for worse, trying to solve a math problem. They want 3 true max level players on their roster and need to fit them all under the salary cap. They already have one in LeBron. They are trying to trade for another in Davis. And while I truly believe they’d want nothing better than for one of the young players to turn into a max level player, I think they’re willing to trade that potential for certainty — especially if it opens up the cap space to sign another max level player in free agency.
That last part is tricky, of course. Having cap space doesn’t guarantee anyone takes the money. The Lakers know this from first hand experience. That said, if they’re able to get Davis on board to flank LeBron, they’ll walk into any free agent pitch meeting this summer and tell them “we can win right now with you, LeBron, and AD” while then rolling out all the specifics of the LA market, endorsement opportunities, and on and on.
We can argue if it’s the right way to go about things; if you’d be okay surrendering both Ball and Ingram along with the #4 pick and likely another young player (Kuzma? Hart?). But, that argument is for another day. You know why? Because the Lakers haven’t traded for anyone. At least not yet.