The Lakers will trade for Anthony Davis. Let it sink in and wash over you. It’s a wonderful feeling. Even if you’re going to miss the players the Lakers traded (like I will). Even if you think the draft compensation surrendered was too extensive (as I do). Davis is one of the top 10 (and many would argue higher) players in the league and instantly forms a partnership with LeBron James to produce the best tandem in the entire league.
In a league where top tier talent reigns supreme — yes, the Raptors may have won a title with a bunch of steady veterans and an on-the-rise Pascal Siakam, but they had Kawhi Leonard — the Lakers just added more top tier talent. Embrace it. This is a wonderful thing.
Still, though, unanswered questions in the wake of the trade remain. The answers to these questions will have ramifications on team building and what this roster looks like next season and beyond. So, let’s look at some of those and see if we can sort some of it out as best we can…
Timing of the Trade
This has been well reported on already, but it’s worth summarizing shortly here.
Woj explains this pretty well in the tweets above. But, to dig in further, if the Lakers were able to get the Pelicans to agree to wait until July 30th to execute this trade, the Lakers would be able to sign the #4 overall draft pick (that they plan to trade) to a contract and then use that contract as ballast in a deal to count as actual salary going out in a trade.
Said another way, the money the #4 draft pick earns would help make a trade legal, under the rules that govern trades, so the Lakers could trade for Davis after they’d used their cap space. If the Lakers do not sign the #4 pick to a contract first, the pick does not count as any salary. Then, the Lakers would be using some of their own cap space to absorb Davis’ contract. Thus, they’d have less money to spend in free agency.
For a team that wants to maximize its cap space this summer, this is a big detail. As Woj reports above, it’s looking more and more likely as though this deal will be executed on July 6th.
How much this hurts the Lakers remains to be seen. But, one thing I will say, Rob Pelinka has preached over and over again that he’s a “scenarios” person whose goal is to be prepared for any number of situations. If this is true, he’ll be prepared to take additional steps to open up some additional cap space — likely using the contracts of Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga, and, potentially, Jemerrio Jones in additional trades (or, by expanding the Pelicans trade) to open up needed cap space.
That’s a big if, up there. But, this is where Pelinka will earn his money and bolster his reputation. As a former agent and someone whose job it is to understand the rules of the collective bargaining agreement forward and backward, I’m willing to give him some benefit of the doubt here. One of the reasons I’ll do that is because of the Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance trade to the Cavs which opened up needed cap space to ensure they could sign LeBron and the stretch and waiving of Luol Deng at the time they did to open up (what would have been, pre-Davis trade) a max cap slot for this summer. He has some capital built up when it comes to this type of thing as a GM even if he might have negative capital in other aspects of being a GM.
Again, we’ll see where this goes come the opening of free agency. As of now, I’m cautiously neutral on and leaning towards “I think he has accounted for this” when thinking forward to the 1st week of July. I could be wrong, of course. And if I am, I’ll say I was and then offer my thoughts on Pelinka with more…thoroughness at that time.
Will Davis Accept his Trade Bonus?
Anthony Davis has a $4.5 million trade bonus owed to him when traded. That bonus is paid by the Pelicans. He has the ability to waive that in any trade. But, if he doesn’t, it raises his salary by that amount which, in turn, impacts the cap space of the team receiving Davis in a trade.
There has been mixed reporting on this. As Woj (and ESPN’s Bobby Marks) have reported, they expect Davis to accept his trade bonus. It’s worth noting here that there were rumblings around the trade deadline (and heading into the off-season) that Davis would be open to waiving this bonus if dealt to the Lakers. However, if he does not waive it AND if the deal happens on July 6th, the Lakers cap space shrinks to a shade below $24 million. If he does waive it, their cap space goes up to nearly $28 million.
We know which one is better for the Lakers. But what will be better for Davis?
You rarely, if ever, see players voluntarily give up money. One of the few is if they’re the unhappy party and want out (Luol Deng giving up money when being waived is an example Lakers fans are familiar with). Davis was unhappy in New Orleans, so he checks that box. Additionally, the Pelicans are not only accommodating him with a trade, but doing so by sending him to his preferred destination. If there’s any situation when a player might give back that money, this is it. He’s getting everything he theoretically wants out of this transaction and if it costs him some money, maybe he’ll be willing to eat that as the cost of doing business.
That said, this might ultimately be contingent on the Lakers actually showing they’re going to spend that money in ways that are wise enough to entice Davis to lighten his wallet by millions of dollars. Like, say, inking another max level player to a contract that uses up the rest of the cap. If the Lakers come back to Davis and say “hey, we couldn’t get Kawhi or Jimmy Butler or Kyrie, but can you waive that trade bonus so we can ink David Nwaba to a market level contract?” I’m going to go out on a limb and say Davis takes his bonus. If they can pull off inking one of those top guys, maybe he waives it.
In the end, details like this are typically agreed to at the time the terms of the deal are established. But, as with the final trade execution date, it seems there could be some movement on this if things break the Lakers way.
Will the Pelicans keep the #4 pick?
This is a variable that can complicate all the above. If the Pelicans keep the pick, all the above stands true just as I typed it. Pelinka has to only deal with them and/or with Davis and pretty much everything is viewed through the variables that exist only with those parties.
If the Pelicans do not keep the pick and trade it, the likelihood of the Lakers being able to find a path towards a deal on July 30th decrease dramatically.
Whatever team that acquires the #4 pick would need to have the cap space to absorb the pick’s salary after they sign their contract. That team may not have the same desire to wait or help the Lakers, potentially requiring more compensation from the Lakers to make it happen. This is to say nothing of whether that team (or the Pelicans, if they keep the pick for that matter) would be okay with the #4 overall pick missing the entirety of summer league.
The Lakers, then, should want the Pelicans to keep this pick if working towards a late July execution is a priority.
This puts a lot of pressure on Rob Pelinka, is he up to the task?
Rob Pelinka has, basically, six days to do several things:
- Recruit another star to play next to LeBron and Davis.
- If #1 is successful, find a way to open up as much additional cap space as he can to get as close as possible to a full max slot by looking at deals that ship out Wagner and Bonga (and maybe even Jones) to complete the Davis trade on July 6th OR
- Convince the Pelicans to wait until July 30th (roughly) in order to maximize salary cap space and make the completion of the Davis trade a bit easier OR if the Pelicans trade the pick, determine the best course of action to work with that new team on making a trade happen on July 30th involving all parties.
- Convince Davis to waive his trade bonus.
This is an incredibly narrow needle to thread and when stepping back and looking at this objectively, it simply doesn’t seem all that likely #3 is in the cards at all. But, when taking a step back, if #3 were accomplished, I would imagine it makes #1 and #4 more likely. Which just makes for an incredibly heavy lift for Pelinka.
After all, the easiest way to a max level star is to be able to actually offer him the max. Every dollar short Pelinka would be, the harder the sell job. And, if he’s not able to sell a max star to take the Lakers money, the likelihood Davis waives his bonus is, in my opinion, slim.
This is where Pelinka can earn his money as an executive, however. And while I’m not going to hold him to this standard as the bar he needs to clear for this summer to be successful, he’d do a heck of a lot to rehabilitate his image as a front office decision maker if he could pull this off.
In the end, the Lakers should feel somewhat confident even if there are real factors going against them right now. They have LeBron and Davis in tow. Any pitch to any free agent will be enhanced by their presence on the roster. And, whether they’re able to pull in a 3rd star or not, the foundation they have in these two players is a major advantage to compete next season. Especially when put in the context of a more wide open western conference than ever.