By Michael Mehlman
There was an earthquake yesterday in Los Angeles:
The Lakers agreed to acquire superstar forward Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round draft picks, including the fourth selection in Thursday’s draft, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported.
The move shifts the tectonic plates of the Western Conference, giving the Lakers two of the NBA’s biggest stars as Davis teams LeBron James and vaulting them back into competitive standing and stocking the Pelicans with a slew of young players while freeing up salary cap space to jump-start a rebuild. New Orleans is widely expected to select Duke star Zion Williamson with the No. 1 overall pick Thursday.
Los Angeles also has $30 million worth of salary cap space to add another star once the free agent signing period officially begins June 30. League analysts have reported Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker is a main target.
The Lakers pursued a similar deal at the trade deadline in February. At the time, Los Angeles was struggling to keep up in the playoff race, and as word spread that then-president of basketball operations Magic Johnson offered up nearly every Lakers player except James in negotiations, the team faded.
Johnson, who abruptly resigned in April, celebrated the trade on Twitter on Saturday night. The team, he wrote, was “back in a championship hunt!”
Davis’s agent, Rich Paul, had made clear that Davis, 26, had no intention of playing out the final two years (the second is a player option) of his five-year, $127 million contract with New Orleans, forcing the team to trade him in the offseason or risk having a disgruntled superstar as the unhappy face of a franchise trying to rebuild.
It still created a flap during the season. The Pelicans pleaded for the NBA to enforce its tampering rules to keep Paul from negotiating with other teams for Davis’s services. It removed Davis from some promotional videos, and Coach Alvin Gentry left Davis on the bench in the fourth quarter during close games.
In seven years with the Pelicans after one season in college at Kentucky, Davis averaged 23.7 points per game, with 10.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 2.1 assists. In every season but his first, he averaged a double-double, and he has led the league in blocked shots per game three times.
James, 34, signed with the Lakers in the 2018 offseason while aware that the team would need a season or two to rebuild and possibly sign more star players to compete in the talent-heavy West. But even some of the most experienced NBA analysts did not predict how much Los Angeles would struggle in James’s first season.
James struggled, too. While dealing with a lingering groin injury, he played the fewest minutes per game in his 16-year career. His field goal percentage was the lowest it has been since 2014-15. Even his free throw shooting struggled; he converted only 66.5 percent of his foul shots.
But now he has his superstar sidekick to help him return the Lakers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and compete for a championship.