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Column: Anthony Davis was smart not to make any long-term promises to the Lakers and their fans

EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. -- SATURDAY, JULY 13, 2019: The Lakers introduces Anthony Davis and his player je
The Lakers introduce Anthony Davis at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo on Saturday.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

With only a season separating him from free agency, he wanted to dispel any misconceptions about his intentions.

When the subject of his future came up, he stepped down from his stool with a microphone in hand and pledged his allegiance to his new hometown.

“If you guys will have me back,” he said, “I plan on re-signing here.”

So much for that.

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The player was Kyrie Irving.

His declaration was made last October at TD Garden in Boston.

Irving departed from the Celtics this month to sign with the Brooklyn Nets.

The episode was instructive to Anthony Davis in that it showed him there was no upside to making any such promises at the introductory news conference the Lakers staged for him Saturday at their practice facility in El Segundo.

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By predictably sidestepping a question about his future beyond the upcoming season — “When that time comes around next year, then you can ask me that question and we’ll revisit it,” he said — he acknowledged realities that have to make the Lakers uncomfortable.

EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. -- SATURDAY, JULY 13, 2019: Lakers GM Rob Pelinka addresses questions from report
Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, left, addresses questions from reporters at Anthony Davis’ introductory news conference. With them is coach Frank Vogel.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Plenty can change over a season. Dreams can morph into nightmares. Projected super teams can reveal themselves to be less than the sum of their parts. Ask Dwight Howard.

The common-sense warning seems necessary now that Los Angeles has lost its collective mind in the wake of the offseason frenzy that reshaped the NBA.

This applies to the Clippers as well.

Paul George is recovering from operations on both shoulders and isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season. Kawhi Leonard could once again be under load management program that limited him to 60 regular-season games with the Toronto Raptors.

If either of their bodies breaks down, the Clippers will be saddled with the big-money contract of a limited player through the 2021-22 season, with the other star likely to open his escape hatch and go elsewhere the summer before.

The doomsday scenario for the Lakers involves Davis walking after this season, which would ensure they are a bad team for a long, long time.

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As the Irving’s case demonstrated, a promise now means nothing, whatever the player’s intentions.

For what it’s worth, the smart money points to Davis being a Laker for the foreseeable future.

The agent he shares with LeBron James, Klutch Sports founder Rich Paul, practically forced the New Orleans Pelicans to trade him to the Lakers. He waived a trade kicker worth $4 million to help a team, which is probably something he wouldn’t do if he thought they were renting him for a season. He also makes his offseason home in Los Angeles.

However, none of that replaces a signed long-term contract and Davis can opt out of his deal at the end of the upcoming season. He might as well keep open his options and not make any promises he might break.

Envisioning this becoming a situation Davis wants to escape doesn’t require a particularly robust imagination. James turns 35 in December and it’s possible the groin injury that sidelined him for 17 games last season was a precursor of what’s to come. Remove James from the equation and the Lakers become the Pelicans of last season.

What was evident Saturday was how Davis believes he and James can mask the obvious problems in the Lakers organization, which start at the top with credibility-challenged owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka. Remember, Davis isn’t here because of Buss or Pelinka; he is here because he and his agent believe in the power of the Lakers brand.

Davis said of the perceived dysfunction: “That’s not my concern. I wasn’t here last year when they said this and that. It wasn’t my problem. I’m here now. I haven’t seen any of it, so I’m happy to get started and take the season head on with the goal of winning a championship.”

But if winning can conceal problems, losing can certainly expose them. Who knows how Davis would react to that.

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The consequences could be catastrophic.

Of the group of promising young players the Lakers collected over their six-year playoff drought, only Kyle Kuzma remains. As part of the trade for Davis, the Lakers also had to part with three future first-round draft picks.

Which is why Pelinka reminded Davis multiple times Saturday about the unusually large part Davis played in assembling the roster.

“I mean, how many calls did we have between me, you and LeBron?” Pelinka asked Davis.

“It was like every day,” Davis said. “On the hour.”

“On the hour,” Pelinka repeated.

The implication was clear: If Davis stays, not only will the team be built around him, he will have a say in how the team is built.

This is more than a Plan A for the Lakers. This is their only plan.

The potential disaster shouldn’t discourage anyone from looking forward to the upcoming season. Go ahead, celebrate the acquisition of Davis, the Lakers’ return to the relevancy, the escalation of the rivalry with the Clippers. Just know the hangover could be severe.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter@dylanohernandez


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