Back in late December, the Lakers were playing the Brooklyn Nets at the end of a four-game road trip, and before the game, the topic of Anthony Davis on the Lakers was broached in the L.A. locker room. LeBron James told ESPN's Dave McMenamin, "That would be amazing. That would be amazing. Like, duh. That would be incredible." Nothing LeBron says to a reporter is ever a coincidence, and of course, it just so happened that the Pelicans would be playing in Los Angeles later that week. Thus began stage 1 of the A.D. to L.A. saga—the ensuing 72 hours were spent pondering the possibilities, debating the particulars of a trade package and arguing about the ethics of tampering among players.
Davis, for his part, told ESPN's Zach Lowe one night later, "I don't really care. Obviously, it's cool to hear any high-caliber player say they want to play with me. But my job is to turn this team around. If we're 15-17, that means I'm not doing my job."
That Friday night, the Lakers beat the Pelicans 112-104 in Los Angeles. Yahoo!'s Chris Haynes reported that LeBron and Davis met postgame and discussed the future over dinner.
Now we're here. Along the way there was also a public trade demand from Davis, a LeBron groin injury, a hilarious mess in the Lakers locker room, like 900 arguments about Rich Paul, a Dell Demps firing, a Looney Tunes t-shirt, the Lakers missing the playoffs, Magic Johnson abruptly resigning on the final day of the regular season, David Griffin assuming control in New Orleans, massive wins for both sides on lottery night, escalating trade rumors that threatened to interrupt the NBA Finals and finally, a trade.
As of Saturday afternoon, Anthony Davis is a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Also, two-and-a-half weeks of the Finals just ended and the draft is coming in 96 hours, so I won't get fancy with this breakdown. Winners and losers of the AD sweepstakes, let's do it.
LeBron James and the Lakers. It feels misleading to call them a winner alongside everyone else in this category, because no one here wins quite as big or immediately as LeBron James, Jeanie Buss, Rob Pelinka, and everyone else associated with the Lakers. That speaks to both the desperation they were bringing to the table this summer and the talent of the player they just acquired. Davis is obscenely gifted. At 26 years old, in the middle of his prime, he's either 1A or 1B among the most talented teammates LeBron's ever had. His presence alone will make the Lakers title contenders next year, and with cap space to add another star in free agency, there’s a strong possibility that the Lakers will enter next year as the clear-cut favorites.
It's mind-blowing to remember how quickly the NBA can shift. On the way into the NBA lottery the Lakers had been a joke for several months and were the near-unanimous choice for most dysfunctional organization in the league. Now the Lakers are contenders again. No one is laughing at what's possible from here, and that immediate shift in identity is why the Lakers likely feel zero regrets about giving up a top-five pick (No. 4 this year), two future firsts, swap rights in the 2020s, two former No.2 picks, and a capable rotation guard like Josh Hart.
That price tag looks daunting in the next decade, but this is a version of the KG Nets trade that should end with a genuine title contender, not to mention a superstar big man who’s 11 years younger than Garnett was when he and Pierce were traded to Brooklyn. Just as important: this is a Lakers franchise that many thought might have to trade LeBron James if this summer didn’t go well. If they were desperate and willing to overpay, that makes some sense. There’s room to criticize the Lakers for not driving a harder bargain given the lack of Pelicans alternatives, but that could make sense, too. The Lakers were incentivized to get this deal done before July, as they now become twice as attractive to potential free agents.
In the end, I understand how bad this deal could look in 2025, but I think I’m OK with the price tag because Davis is just that good, and because of the alternatives that were facing L.A. if this deal didn’t come together. Had the Lakers lost Davis to Boston, New York, Brooklyn, or some other wild-card team, the organization would have been left looking to someone like Bradley Beal to come anchor the remaining years of LeBron's career. Maybe they would have signed Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker as well. It would have been a perfectly fine summer, but a) they still would have had to forfeit many of the assets they gave up in the AD deal, and b) that hypothetical team has a significantly lower ceiling than the possibilities that now await the Lakers.
There is more work to do and there are plenty of ways this could go wrong as the rest of the team comes together, but it's hard to imagine a better way to begin the offseason. With Davis on board, the Lakers will now have a chance to sign Walker, Butler, or maybe even Kawhi Leonard. Did you see what Kawhi's family was doing on Instagram Saturday night? Who knows what that means, but it was that kind of day for the Lakers.
For now, in case Saturday marked the end of Lakers jokes for the foreseeable future, here is one last look at that clip of Rob Pelinka telling the Heath Ledger story.
Pelicans. This deal was a very good haul for New Orleans, particularly if the reports are true that the Celtics were unwilling to offer Jayson Tatum in any proposals. The Knicks might have been serious competitors with L.A. had Kevin Durant remained healthy, but absent serious bids from either New York or Boston, there just weren't many teams that had the assets to trade for Davis and enough talent left behind to contend once he arrived and potentially convince him to stay next summer. Given those limits around the league, the Pelicans did well to extract three firsts, including one top-five pick, along with three young players who immediately make New Orleans the most talented young team in the league.
Will New Orleans keep all those pieces? We'll see. Brandon Ingram's fit next to Zion Williamson will be its own adventure, while Lonzo Ball's lack of shooting also raises questions. If it were possible to trade both of those players for a star like Bradley Beal, I imagine David Griffin would do it. Likewise, most around the league expect Griffin to shop the No. 4 pick until draft night, another wild card that makes it hard to gauge exactly what this return will look like by the time New Orleans makes it to opening night.
One thing is certain: the Pelicans didn't lose anything by not doing this deal in February. Even if there are no further moves, New Orleans has assembled a young core that should be fun as hell, not to mention picks that will retain value well into the next decade. Griffin looks like he's done significantly better than Chicago (Jimmy Butler), Indiana (Paul George), Minnesota (Butler again), or San Antonio (Kawhi Leonard). Some of that difference is a credit to how good Davis is, while some of it may be a credit to how desperate the Lakers were to consummate the deal. Either way, Griffin and the Pelicans deserve credit. Between the lottery win and this deal finally coming to fruition, the future looks much brighter now than it did two months ago.
Brandon Ingram. Let's check in on Brandon Ingram feels about parting ways with the team that spent several weeks trying to trade him...
I remain a believer that Ingram is going to be good. Again, it's not yet guaranteed that his next chapter happens in New Orleans, but regardless, he's going to have renewed opportunities to shine. He played very well down the stretch last year, and after seeing the way both D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle blossomed after parting ways with L.A.'s development staff, now is probably a good time to buy stock in what's next here.
Lonzo Ball. This one is more of a TBD than Ingram. Lonzo seems like he should be a winner here, in large part because he's headed to a team that will play every game at 150 mph, paired with Zion Williamson, a player who could theoretically average 15 alley-oops per game playing with a passer like Lonzo. The question will be his health (he's averaged 49.5 games played in two seasons) and his shooting (he's shooting 31.5% from three for his career, not to mention 43.7% from the free throw line). I want Lonzo to be good; he has moments where his IQ and feel look head and shoulders above anyone else his age, his game at its best is unlike almost anyone else in the league and his passing can be infectious among teammates. His game still has massive holes in it, though, and particularly for a team that's about to build around a 6'7" power forward with shooting questions of his own, Lonzo's fit will be interesting.
League Pass addicts. However the Lonzo and Ingram questions are resolved, the Pelicans are going to be must-see TV for anyone who cares about basketball. That was going to be true regardless after lottery night, but adding a handful of additional young players with strange skillsets will only make this team more addictive. I can't wait.
Anthony Davis. For his sake, I wish he’d played out the year in New Orleans before requesting a trade in January and jeopardizing nearly eight years of well-earned good will in New Orleans. Had he waited til June, the entire world would have understood. In any case, AD wanted to be in a bigger market, he wanted to be on a title contender and he wanted to be on the Lakers. He got all three. He’s the most talented big man of this generation, and while there were truthers that emerged to question his impact over the years, it bears mentioning that the last time we saw AD in the playoffs he looked like the best player in the league as New Orleans was sweeping the Blazers. He can have a Kawhi-like impact on his next team, and given that LeBron will be alongside him, that’s scary to consider.
Rich Paul. It wasn't always pretty, and there's a longer discussion to be had about ways this could've been handled better, even if it just means firing the stylist who greenlit the “That’s All Folks” t-shirt. But amid all the criticism that follows Klutch Sports—some of it unfair, some of it well-founded—the basic reality is that, more often than not, Paul gets his clients what they want. That happened again in this case, and it's a very high-profile win for Paul and Davis. The outcome here also preserves a healthy relationship between Griffin and Paul that dates back to several years in Cleveland. That relationship may prove relevant if the Pelicans draft Darius Garland, another Klutch Sports client, with the pick at No. 4.
Celtics. The end of Boston's rebuilding process is beginning to look like the inverse of the Golden State origin story. The Warriors, of course, needed a dozen different strokes of fate to build the best team since the Jordan Bulls. They needed Dwight Howard to choose the Rockets (Golden State traded for Iguodala instead). They needed David Lee to get hurt (Draymond Green took over and turned into a hall of famer). They needed a historic cap spike to coincide with Kevin Durant's free agency after losing a title in a Game 7. They needed Steph Curry to struggle with ankle injuries early in his career, freeing up space to build the rest of the team as the second-best player of the current generation played for the same money that Ty Lawson was getting. There were a handful of additional inflection points, too, but you get the point. The Warriors were made possible by a perfect storm of ambition, foresight, good timing, and blind luck.
I think the Celtics had both the ambition and the foresight elements of that equation. The Nets trade may have been half-luck, sure, but the Tatum trade two years ago was pure evil. Likewise, drafting a player like Jaylen Brown wasn't popular at the time, but it was the right move, and the decision was indicative of a team that understood the league would one day belong to two-way wings who could switch on defense and hit from the perimeter. So let’s acknowledge up front that the Celtics understand what they're doing, they have been fearless in charting their course, and most of the decisions they’ve made have been objectively smart. The most convincing criticism you can make is that this team was too conservative in trade talks, largely because the front office was biding its time until Anthony Davis became available. Speaking of which...
An incomplete list of disastrous developments in the past 12 months:
• The Celtics owned Sacramento '19 first-round pick, widely expected to be the jewel of an AD trade. The Kings were projected to win 25.5 games. Instead, they won 39 games. The pick landed at 14.
• The Celtics decided not to trade Jaylen Brown for Kawhi Leonard, possibly because they assumed Brown would eventually be moved in an AD deal.
• Brown's game cratered for the first half of this season, undermining his value in said deal.
• Gordon Hayward, once an All-Star and an All-NBA candidate, averaged 11.5 ppg this season. He made $31.2 million. His trade value cratered more than anyone.
• The ‘18-‘19 regular season began with the Celtics projected to win 59 games and finish first in the East. They won 49 and finished fifth.
• Kyrie Irving opened the year saying, "If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here."
• Kryie Irving asked about that promise five months later: "I don't owe anybody s---."
• Later that night, Davis' father cited the Isaiah Thomas trade and said he would never want his son to be part of the Celtics organization.
• Because of an arcane CBA rule, Kyrie's presence on the roster meant the Celtics were incapable of topping a Lakers offer in February, when L.A.'s trade package was half as enticing. Read about the "Rose Rule" here.
• Meanwhile, AD rumors swirled around this team all year as outsiders wondered what could possibly be wrong with Boston’s chemistry.
• At the lottery, even after Sacramento's success this year, the Celtics came within one ping pong ball of landing at No. 4. That pick went to the Lakers instead.
• This week, Sports Illustrated ran a story in which Paul promised that Davis would enter free agency if he were traded to Boston.
• Despite it all, the Celtics were reportedly prepared to enter the bidding as recently as Wednesday afternoon.
• Wednesday night, word leaked that Kyrie was changing agents and plans to sign with ROC Nation Sports, all but confirming speculation that he is leaving Boston, rendering a one-year AD rental significantly more perilous.
All of the above is a how years' worth of meticulous planning goes up in flames. It's honestly pretty breathtaking. Some of what went awry can obviously be second guessed, but most of what happened here is the product of a smart and aggressive management process yielding hilariously bad results. We'll see how Boston responds. There will be room to make alternate moves and it's unlikely that the Celtics will stand pat all summer, but losing Davis and Kyrie looks like a worst-case scenario after a years-long rebuilding process that was supposed to end with a title nucleus.
Houston Rockets. There's no team that looks quite as cursed as the Celtics at the end of all this, but after Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant went down with injuries this past week, the West was wide open. The Rockets looked destined to enter next season as clear favorites to make the Finals. Annnnnnnnnnnnnd ... That window lasted roughly 36 hours. Daryl Morey is Sisyphus.
Brookyln Nets. If the Nets are actually signing Kyrie Irving—as has been widely rumored—then what's the plan for a second star? Emerging as an AD darkhorse seemed like the best path to contending. Now, if the Nets really intend to hand a max contract to Irving, the path to a second star gets complicated, and the downsides that come with Kyrie become a bit more daunting. We'll see how it shakes out from here.
People who were tired of LaVar Ball. We'll never know what, exactly, was said to convince LaVar Ball to recede from the spotlight for the past 14 months. Whatever happened, that ceasefire of takes is probably over now that Lonzo is in New Orleans.
Small market teams that hated lottery reform. Imagine if the Chris Paul Lakers trade hadn't been veto'd, but instead, the Chris Paul trade was made possible by a change in the draft rules that a handful of teams hated because it threatened to punish hopeless small market organizations by removing their most reliable path to superstar talent. Also, imagine if Chris Paul was like 15% more talented and 10 inches taller when he was traded to the Lakers. That's sort of where we are after Saturday. L.A. maybe could have gotten this deal done had this year’s pick landed where it was supposed to—the 11th pick—but by leapfrogging up to No. 4 on lottery night, the trade package became significantly more lucrative. Meanwhile, the Cavs (No. 5) and Suns (No. 6) both slid from the top of the board to the middle of the lottery. I'm a fan of chaos and don't have a problem with the way any of this unfolded, but I can imagine plenty of other teams are less amused.
Lakers haters. Look, we can’t sugarcoat this. Saturday was a heartbreaking defeat for Lakers haters of the world, and the news may get even worse as the offseason unfolds. It’s dark right now. That said, the haters can at least take solace knowing that Jason Kidd is the highest paid assistant coach in the NBA, and it remains entirely possible that a slow start in L.A. leads to a midseason coup unseating Frank Vogel in a hilarious scandal that’s eventually narrated by 75 unnamed sources speaking to Baxter Holmes. Likewise, after the way last summer unfolded, there's always the chance that Rob Pelinka decides to build around LeBron James and Anthony Davis by signing Willie Cauley-Stein, the Morris twins, Mario Hezonja, and trading for Josh Jackson. But absent any kind of haters miracle, the other losers are....
Anyone who sold LeBron James stock. Half his genius has always been rooted in an ability to conjure empires wherever he goes. It's what has made him revolutionary, and it will be near the top of his resume when it's time to look back and assess his impact on the NBA. Now we've just seen him recruit the best player to be traded in 10 years. Also, that player happens to be represented by the agency that LeBron helped build. Also, the Lakers still have space to add another star in free agency. Also, it's late on a Saturday night in mid-June, the Finals ended 15 minutes ago, the draft starts any second now, and I'm carefully studying this video of LeBron and Kawhi after a game in March.
It should be a great summer.