This was more than just a trade for Anthony Davis.
This was a trade for a championship.
In dealing Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round draft picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for the NBA’s most dominating inside presence Saturday, the Lakers did more than just add a giant superstar.
They created a title team out of a losing team. They turned a group of underachievers into a group that could overwhelm. They returned hope to a hopelessly lost franchise — real hope, ring hope.
It was a swap Lakers fans desperately sought after watching their team miss the playoffs for a franchise-worst six consecutive seasons. In recent weeks, they’d witnessed Magic Johnson’s sudden resignation, general manager Rob Pelinka’s botched coaching search and enough front office nonsense to make them wonder if the chaos would ever end. For them to now see one of the NBA’s five best players walk through the door is literally a sight for sore eyes.
This was a trade for LeBron James’ interest. You think he’ll emotionally invest in this team now? By creating a legitimate title hope, the Lakers should start seeing the legitimate LeBron.
This was a trade for potential free agents’ attention. You think somebody like Kyrie Irving would want to join this group? Kemba Walker would also probably love to play here now. They need a point guard, and they should be able to get one. They need a shooter, and they should be able to find one. One of the league’s most unsettling environments just became its most attractive.
This was a trade for Davis’ future. He is a free agent at the end of the season, and although his representatives had said he wanted to play in Los Angeles, the Lakers no longer have to worry about him spending the year being wooed by someone else. He is a Laker now, and will probably be a Laker for a long time.
This was a trade for Kyle Kuzma’s empowerment. They kept Kuzma! Can you believe they somehow made a major trade for a big-time star and still managed to hold on to arguably their best young player and fan favorite?
This was a trade for Golden State’s vacancy. With the Warriors finally decimated and probably gone, the path to the NBA Finals has been cleared for another dominant West team, and the Lakers just became it.
This was, finally, a trade for Pelinka’s reputation. The most criticized executive in the league just pulled off a deal that made the Lakers relevant again. He not only saved the LeBron James era from crumbling almost before it began, but he also probably saved his own job, and that strange sound he’s hearing today is applause.
There was even this, on Twitter, from former basketball boss Johnson: “Great trade Rob Pelinka! Job well done.”
Congrats also to owner Jeanie Buss, who has stubbornly supported Pelinka through recent embarrassments. The front office may still be a mess, but, as of Saturday, it’s a mess that’s managed to set the Lakers on a potential title course for the next five years or more.
Just imagine if they sign Irving this summer and lock down Davis next summer, employing two 27-and-under stars just as James is receding into the sunset. Talk about championship sustainability. This trade could eventually result in more than one ring.
Of course, there will be boos. Some folks around the league will probably think the Lakers gave up too much.
Those folks don’t understand Los Angeles, and the city’s championship expectations, and the pain of the six-year playoff drought, and the increasingly big bucks paid by loyal ticket-holders to see a title while James can still move.
The Lakers have to win now, or they will be blowing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity afforded them by one of the best players ever. The Lakers have to win now or risk losing the attention of a city that has grown sick of all the drama.
So, three first-round draft picks are a ton of picks. So what? James could be retired by the time those picks are cashed.
Anthony Davis cuts down the net after Kentucky defeated the Baylor 82-70 in the NCAA tournament South Regional final on March 25, 2012, in Atlanta.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Kentucky head coach John Calipari and Anthony Davis embrace after defeating Kansas 67-59in the NCAA tournament final on April 2, 2012, in New Orleans.(Charles Bertram / MCT)
Kentucky’s Anthony Davis reacts late in the second half against the Louisville Cardinals during the 2012 NCAA semifinals.(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)
Kentucky’s Anthony Davi is congratulated by former teammate Michael Kidd–Gilchrist after Davis was selected the No. 1 overall draft pick by the New Orleans Hornets on June, 28, 2012.(Bill Kostroun / Associated Press)
Kentucky coach John Calipari and Anthony Davis in the audience during the 2012 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre on July 11, 2012.(Jason Merritt / Getty Images)
Hornets forward Anthony Davis knocks the ball from the grasp of Lakers forward Pau Gasol during a game in 2013.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Hornets forward Anthony Davis battles Wizards forward Martell Webster for a rebound.(Associated Press)
Pelicans forward Anthony Davis dunks against the Clippers during a game on Nov. 11, 2017.(Scott Threlkeld / Associated Press)
Pelicans forward Anthony Davis and Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade trade jerseys after a game Nov. 30, 2018, in Miami.(Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)
Pelicans forward Anthony Davis tries to grab a rebound from Clippers center DeAndre Jordan on March 6, 2018.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Pelicans forward Anthony Davis reacts after a slam dunk during the second half of Game 3 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on May 4, 2018.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Pelicans forward Anthony Davis leaves the court after talking to reporters on Feb. 1, 2019, shortly after his trade demand became public.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Pelicans forward Anthony Davis has the ball stripped by Lakers guard Rajon Rondo during a game in 2019.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward LeBron James and Pelicans forward Anthony Davis after a March game in New Orleans. The Lakers won 130-102.(Tyler Kaufman / Associated Press)
Pelicans forward Anthony Davis dunks against the Lakers during a game last season.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lonzo Ball was an exciting player, but he was brittle. The Lakers probably also aren’t too crushed to end all affiliation with his blowhard father, LaVar, who now becomes just another French Quarter oddball.
Brandon Ingram finally began showing some of his potential last year, but the Lakers are done with potential. Josh Hart was a solid role player, but the Lakers can find another solid role player.
A reminder: This is Anthony Davis. This is a 26-year-old player who has career averages of 24 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. This is a guy who can run the floor and dominate on both ends. The impact he will have while sharing the ball and court and moment with James should make for great theater and wonderful basketball.
Davis has flaws. He is prone to nagging injuries, having played in more than 68 games just twice in his seven seasons. He’s also not afraid to submarine a franchise with his personal agenda, as this season’s get-me-out-of-New-Orleans demand showed.
That drama was caused by his agent Rich Paul, who is also James’ agent, and that’s another problem. If you think Paul had undue influence on the Lakers before, well, now he’ll practically run the team. There could come a point when his clients’ interests do not coincide with the Lakers’ interests, and things could get ugly again.
But Saturday was not a day for ugly. It was a day for the Brow Beauty, the first day of the Lakers year of A.D., the dramatic changing of a desperate and downtrodden climate.
In the end, who cares who won the trade?
The Lakers may have just won a championship.