Anthony Davis to the Lakers is just the start, but the path ahead is not guaranteed

Anthony Davis to the Lakers is just the start, but the path ahead is not guaranteed

In landing Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers have kick-started the fire on what is sure to be one of the most intriguing offseasons in living memory. But LeBron James and Davis by themselves likely won’t be enough to win the title in LA, so a lot of the Lakers’ potential for next season depends on these coming months. Per ESPN’s salary cap guru Bobby Marks, the Lakers will have at least $27.8 million in cap space heading into free agency, and it could, depending on when the Davis deal goes through, be as much as $32.5M.

To explain the ins-and-outs of how the Pelicans can affect this and impact the Lakers’ offseason goals, I am going to lean on the superior knowledge of one Woj:

‘If both sides agree to push back the trade call until July 30 — which is 30 days after first-round picks sign their contracts — Los Angeles will have $32.5 million in room to use in free agency.

By waiting those 30 days, Los Angeles would be acting like a team over the cap and would be allowed to use the fourth pick in the draft as salary. If the trade is finalized on July 6, that number will shrink to $27.8 million.

Davis also has a 15 percent trade bonus worth $4 million that would see the Lakers’ cap space shrink to $23.8 million if the trade is completed in the first week of July. Davis will have the right to void the bonus.

However, if the Pelicans wait 30 days from July 1 to complete the trade, they would have only $15 million in cap space rather than $19 million if the trade was completed July 6.’

Now, the difference between $27.8 million and $32.5 million may not appear all that much, but it is, in this case, significant and still just shy of the $32.7 million required to add another max-level player. But when you factor in playing alongside two of the league’s best players and living in LA, losing $200,000 probably isn’t that big a deal. $32.5 million would allow the Lakers to pursue their priority target, who according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, is now Kemba Walker — and for good reason.

Kemba Walker

Walker, who averaged 25.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists across 82 games this season, developed himself into one of the best perimeter players in the league, drawing regular comparisons to the likes of Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, courtesy of some memorable performances and his first All-NBA recognition. Playing with stars like James and Davis in Los Angeles would be a huge adjustment for someone used to carrying the scoring load in Charlotte, but adding a smart, high-scoring, perimeter-focused guard could work well alongside James and Davis, as Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday have in the past. The potential addition of Walker, to a team consisting of LeBron and Davis, would mark the true return of Lakers exceptionalism – where banking on the present takes precedence over any long-term outlook.

All of that being said, Walker has shown nothing but loyalty to Charlotte in the past and he is, without a shadow of a doubt, the franchises best player ever and only this season, became the Hornets’ career scoring leader. The franchise that selected him ninth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft have always believed in the potential of their star guard, and he approaches his first-ever unrestricted free agency with that sentiment at heart. It’s the same reason why he signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension in 2015, instead of holding out an additional summer to be in position for a bigger contract.

For Kemba, loyalty matters, but could the allure of joining a team featuring James and Davis and the title opportunities be enough to sway him into joining the Lakers?

With that in mind and Walker’s obvious benefits to the Lakers stated, here’s a look at some other options to play alongside the NBA’s latest superstar duo – should Walker decide to stay in his beloved Charlotte.

Kyrie Irving

2018 – 19 MPG FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG BPG
POSTSEASON 36.7 38.5 31 90 21.3 4.3 7 0.4
CAREER STATS 33.8 46.5 39 87.5 22.2 3.6 5.7 0.4

Kyrie Irving has spent much of this past season disgruntled. He verbally committed to re-signing with the Celtics, but later downplayed it in February, saying he doesn’t “owe anyone s—” and he’s been tied to the Brooklyn Nets for most of the past week. But the Davis trade has changed all this.

Irving represents an immediate fit alongside LeBron and Davis. There’s no doubt about whether this partnership works, and Kyrie has made it clear of his desire to play alongside Davis in the past.

For LeBron and Irving, it’s simply a case of what has worked before, can work again and the addition of Irving would practically make the Lakers the Cleveland Cavaliers 2.0 – except Anthony Davis is a lot better than Kevin Love (sorry Kevin).

However, as great a fit as he would be, Irving has been well documented for causing dysfunction in the locker room both in Cleveland/Boston, and with LeBron’s championship window becoming increasingly narrow — there’s no time for drama.

Lastly, would Irving really want to be the third guy behind James and Davis? Doubt it.

Jimmy Butler

2018 – 19 MPG FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG BPG
POSTSEASON 35.1 45.1 26.7 87.5 19.4 6 5.2 0.6
CAREER STATS 32.9 45.4 34.1 83.5 16.7 4.9 3.5 0.5

Per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Butler intends to test free agency by opting out of a $19.8 million player option. Which for the Lakers, represents another intriguing prospect to pair alongside James and Davis, and just like the aforementioned Irving, one that also comes with a well-documented history of dysfunction in the locker room. 

However, putting that aside, Butler is class-leading two-way guard, a better defender than both Walker and Irving, and a proven scorer who more than showed his value in the postseason for the Philadelphia 76ers.

During his 55 game stint, Butler proved he could make game-winning plays and contribute alongside other talented ball handlers and scorers, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. A point worth noting and a fundamental requirement when assembling a successful “Big Three”. 

Across the league, there is some trepidation about giving Butler the full max, which could open the doors to the Lakers. But the Sixers obviously know all of this and can offer more money and years than them this summer. The question is, would they?

Now, let’s say for a minute that one of these stars does in fact end up in the purple and gold this summer – in order to truly make this summer a success, Lakers’ general manager Rob Pelinka would still be required to outfit the roster with supporting talent and most importantly, perimeter shooting, two-way players – something he failed to do last summer and something which the Lakers will struggle with, especially when you consider the money spent acquiring the above star. The veteran minimum would be the only option, but there is another, more prudent route.

Break up the max slot and sign multiple role players

Whatever happens with the remaining cap space, the Lakers should take this route.

This is the prudent route.

Breaking up the max slot would allow the Lakers to truly add depth to the roster without relying on the veteran minimum. James and Davis already represent a supernova pairing, the likes of which make NBA fans have wet-dreams, but by themselves, it may not be enough. Especially when you look at the construction of this team. LeBron James was injured last season, and Anthony Davis has missed a lot of games during his career to date.

We learnt from these Finals that depth is critical, come April and June, so here’s some options for the Lakers to pursue, should they break up the max slot.

Darren Collison

2018 – 19 MPG FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG BPG
POSTSEASON 29.3 42.2 36.4 100 12 3 4 0
CAREER STATS 29.4 47.1 39.4 85.3 12.5 2.7 5 0.2

Now, while Collison is more-than-likely looking for one last big contract in his career, playing with James and Davis would represent his best shot at a ring. The steady veteran point guard will be 32-years-old when next season starts, but he can still run an offense, hit open shots, and jump passing lanes defensively at a high level.

Brook Lopez

2018 – 19 MPG FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG BPG
POSTSEASON 29.2 45.5 29.3 82.8 11.2 5.5 1.4 1.9
CAREER STATS 30.9 49.8 34.7 79.1 17.3 6.5 1.5 1.7

This doesn’t make much sense if James and Davis play the 4 and 5, but if they don’t and each star ends up playing their prefered position (Davis 4, James 3), Lopez would help stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for James on the perimeter.

Bojan Bogdanovic

2018 – 19 MPG FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG BPG
POSTSEASON 37 39.7 31.8 88.2 18 5.8 2.8 0
CAREER STATS 27.8 46.3 38.9 84.6 13.3 3.4 1.4 0.1

A criminally underrated shooter, who put up a career-high in points, rebounds and assists this season. One of the best shooters in the NBA, period. He would thrive alongside James and Davis, who could make up for his lacklustre defense.

Malcolm Brogdan

2018 – 19 MPG FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG BPG
POSTSEASON 28.3 44.9 37.8 63.6 13 4.9 3.4 0.1
CAREER STATS 28.1 48.4 40.8 89.5 12.8 3.5 3.6 0.2

Brogdan can play either guard spot effectively. He’s a good offensive threat and a good defender. He has blossomed into a knockdown three-point shooter recently and would provide the type of all-round impacted needed to support James and Davis.

Danny Green

2018 – 19 MPG FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG BPG
POSTSEASON 28.5 34.2 32.8 91.3 6.9 3.6 1.1 0.5
CAREER STATS 25.4 42.4 40.4 81.7 9 3.5 1.6 0.8

Danny Green is the perfect fit alongside James and Davis. A 3-and-D wing who can keep up with the pace of the modern game, execute on switches and, at times, guard the opponents best players on the perimeter — all whilst knocking down shots at a consistent rate.

Trevor Ariza

2018 – 19 MPG FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG BPG
CAREER STATS 29.8 42.2 35.1 72.8 10.7 4.8 2.2 0.3

A veteran presence, who’s getting up there in age, but still one of the most consistent 3-and-D players in the NBA.

JaMychal Green

2018 – 19 MPG FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG BPG
POSTSEASON 23.5 53.5 52.2 80 11 5.3 0.8 0
CAREER STATS 22.2 47.9 36.9 77 8.4 6.1 0.9 0.4

JaMychal Green is one of those players you fall in love with whilst watching NBA League Pass. He doesn’t hit YouTube highlights and his stats won’t blow anyone away, but he’s an athletic forward and undersized center, a solid scorer and rebounder who can space the floor for the Lakers. He’s a good, flexible fit alongside Davis. A reliable modern big man.

Seth Curry

2018 – 19 MPG FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG BPG
POSTSEASON 20.4 36.6 40.4 81.8 5.6 1.6 0.8 0.2
CAREER STATS 21.6 46.7 43.9 84.5 9.3 1.9 1.7 0.1

Not great defensively, but a solid producer off the bench. In the correct system, with the right players around him, his high-level three-point shooting makes him a threat on every offensive possession.

Ivica Zubac

2018 – 19 MPG FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG BPG
POSTSEASON 9.8 50 0 66.7 5 5.5 0.3 0.5
CAREER STATS 14.7 54 0 76.1 6.9 4.6 0.8 0.7

Yes, the Lakers should bring him back. In fact, they should never have let him go in the first place. Zubac is a solid finisher in traffic with either hand, and a strong rebounder. Mobile enough to cover perimeter players and stretch-bigs, Zubac would make a fine partner in crime alongside Davis or coming off the bench.

It remains to be seen just how Pelinka and the Lakers handle the rest of this offseason, but right now they’re banking on the pulling power of their two superstars and the prospect of an immediate championship. But will it be enough?

Will the Lakers exceptionalism conquer all?

That is a question none of us can answer.

Feature photo – Getty Images / Bleacher Report / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington