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The first nuclear bomb of the NBA summer dropped Saturday, when the Los Angeles Lakers agreed to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans in a blockbuster trade involving three players, including Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, as well as three first-round picks and additional pick swaps.
Mario Villarroel Lander
Let’s sort through the winners and losers of Davis‘s long-awaited and league-altering move to L.A
Winners: LeBron James and Anthony Davis
How happy are these guys to be playing together? (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) They need each other. Badly
James needs a young superstar sidekick who can protect his back on defense. Davis needs a much bigger platform and an A-list teammate for the first time in his career. They both need a budding superteam to get back into the title chase after regrettable lottery trips.
[ First LeBron James, now Anthony Davis: The time to pity the Lakers has passed ]
Best of all, James and Davis don’t need to lose any sleep over the cache of future draft considerations that went to the Pelicans. That’s a problem — somebody else’s problem — for another day
Loser: LaVar Ball
The Big Baller Brand boss pitched visions of his son, Lonzo, leading the Lakers back to glory. Instead, the oft-injured point guard must rehabilitate his knee and reputation well off the radar in New Orleans. (Assuming, of course, he isn’t repackaged in another trade.)
[ LaVar Ball guarantees Lakers will never win another title after trading Lonzo Ball ]
Lonzo will be better off developing in a low-key environment, far away from his overly involved father and the expectations that come with playing for the Lakers. LaVar, though, just saw his fledgling company’s meal ticket go to one of the league’s smallest markets, a blow that comes mere months fraud allegations rocked Big Baller Brand. That one-two punch could prove to be a knockout
Winners: Pelicans executive David Griffin and Coach Alvin Gentry
The baseline value for Davis, given agent Rich Paul’s skillful work depressing his market by steering him to the Lakers, should have been something like Ball, Ingram, one other young prospect and a first-round pick
Griffin’s final package went above and beyond that threshold, landing the fourth pick in Thursday’s draft, two additional first round picks and future pick swaps. The draft considerations extend all the way out to 2025, by which point James will likely be retired and Davis could be on to his next team.
After landing the right to draft Zion Williamson with the top pick on Thursday, the Pelicans are in prime position to play the long game. They will now do so with a trove of assets thanks to Griffin’s skillful negotiating
Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry wins on all counts: he no longer has to deal with Davis’s baggage, he escapes the disappointment that comes whenever a superstar misses the playoffs, he gets to mold Williamson and a talented young roster, and he does it all knowing that he has a savvy and empowered executive calling the shots
Winner/Loser: Rob Pelinka
Pelinka is clearly a short-term winner given the degree of difficulty. The unseasoned executive had to step into the void created by Magic Johnson’s departure while facing an endless barrage of critiques in recent weeks.
Regardless, he consummated a deal to land a perennial all-NBA talent in his prime. That move changes the negative narrative around his team and put it back on track for a deep playoff push, especially if he can land a third star using L.A.’s substantial cap space
However, the long-term view might not be as friendly. Pelinka is the only party exposed to significant risk. James, Davis and Paul will be free from second-guessing: they can always bolt L.A. if things don’t pan out, given that Davis will hit free agency in 2020 and James will follow him in 2021. Even if Ball and Ingram somehow turn into busts, Griffin won’t ever face heat because everyone knew he had to trade Davis or risk losing him for nothing.
Pelinka, though, bears responsibility for all the future picks and the decision to part with Ball, Ingram and this year’s No. 4 pick. He will be the one taking hits if the James/Davis partnership doesn’t manifest as expected. Or, if one of those young prospects blossoms into a superstar. Or, if some or all of those future picks wind up being incredibly valuable because the Lakers crumble after James retires.
Most executives do whatever they can to avoid any possibility of becoming the “Next Billy King.” Pelinka stepped right into it.
Winner: Klutch Sports’ Rich Paul
Paul works for Davis, but he answers to James, his longtime friend and business partner, too. Despite months of negative press, the Klutch Sports agent ultimately satisfied both Davis and James by arranging a mutually beneficial marriage
The Lakers should enter 2019-20 as one of the West’s top contenders, and the two stars will no doubt be the NBA’s center of attention given the Warriors’ decimating injuries. The jersey sales, sneaker sales, advertising deals, television appearances and all the rest should go through the roof. Not bad, considering that James and Davis have been watching from home since April.
Loser: Celtics executive Danny Ainge
Following years of unrequited lusting after Davis and dreams of a Davis/Kyrie Irving duo, Ainge and the Celtics go home empty-handed. Given that Paul repeatedly stated Davis did not want to land in Boston and considering the final price the Lakers paid, Ainge can’t be blamed for failing to beat L.A.’s huge offer
Still, Ainge’s master plan for a Celtics dynasty has taken hit after hit in recent weeks, and Irving’s rumored departure to the Nets could be next. A superstar breakthrough from Jayson Tatum is starting to look like Boston’s best — and maybe only — chance at salvaging anything close to its best-case scenario over the next five years
Winner: Zion Williamson
New Orleans belongs to Zion Williamson now, and he hasn’t even been drafted yet. (Alex Brandon/AP) Shortly after the Pelicans won this year’s top draft pick, Gentry suggested that Williamson was the type of talent capable of making Davis reconsider his trade request out of New Orleans. This Washington Post column argued a few days later that New Orleans should base its decisions on what Davis could mean to Williamson, rather than what Williamson meant to Davis
That’s how it wound up playing out. Rather than risk launching Williamson’s career under the cloud of Davis’s unhappiness, the Pelicans assembled multiple young players who should fill out an exciting lineup around the Duke star. Plus, New Orleans will have extra picks to refine its roster as Williamson progresses through his rookie contract.
For perspective, imagine if Boston had a Williamson-like talent to rebuild around as it imported Brooklyn’s picks in the years after the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett blockbuster. That’s a tantalizing hypothetical.
Williamson now enjoys the best of both worlds: He gets to immediately lay claim to his own team while also looking forward to a much rosier future
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Ben Golliver Ben Golliver joined The Washington Post as the National NBA Writer in 2018. Previously, he was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated covering the NBA. An Oregon native, he lives and works in Los Angeles. Follow
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