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Column: Anthony Davis signing shows Lakers are once again NBA’s premier destination franchise

Anthony Davis and LeBron James celebrate after defeating the Heat on Oct. 11, 2020, to win the NBA title.
Anthony Davis, left, and LeBron James won an NBA title their first season together. They’ll play at least three seasons together, maybe more.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

This was a gimme, an uncontested dunk, a wide-open three-pointer.

Anthony Davis officially returned to the Lakers on Thursday.

Of course he did.

A deal of enormous significance was reached with minimal suspense, which says as much about the Lakers as the championship they won almost two months ago.

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As the world around them has descended into chaos, the Lakers have restored order in their house. They are once again the NBA’s premier destination franchise, evidenced by how the 27-year-old Davis has committed the remainder of his physical prime to them.

With an improved roster around Davis and LeBron James, they should repeat as champions this season. They could establish a dynasty in the years that follow. They are positioned to attract a superstar free agent of the next generation, whether it’s Zion Williamson, Ja Morant or someone else.

The Lakers signed All-Star forward Anthony Davis to a five-year, $190-million contract because his unmatched talent can be the present and the future.

The Lakers are the Lakers again.

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In retrospect, the development feels as if it was inevitable. In reality, it was never guaranteed.

Go back to July of last year when the Lakers staged an introductory news conference for Davis at their practice facility in El Segundo. Asked about his future beyond the upcoming season, Davis talked around the subject.

“When that time comes around next year, then you can ask me that question and we’ll revisit it,” Davis said at the time.

The featured speaker’s reticence invited observers to picture a disaster scenario in which James broke down, the Lakers unraveled and Davis abandoned them after a season, making them regret mortgaging their future to acquire him from the New Orleans Pelicans.

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That wasn’t the kind of ordeal they could survive. Their owner was clueless, their general manager unpopular around the league. They were closer than they wanted to admit to once again being the team that failed to get an audience with Kevin Durant.

Think there was no chance of that happening? Ask the Clippers how their franchise-altering experiment is unfolding.

Doomsday never came for the Lakers.

As LeBron James signed and Anthony Davis agreed to terms, Kyle Kuzma said his representatives have been in contact with the Lakers on his own contract status.

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Management, which forged a strong relationship with the agency that represents James and Davis, hired the right coach in Frank Vogel after a painful search to replace Luke Walton.

Davis was the game-changer he was expected to be. James not only remained healthy, but looked rejuvenated during a season in which he turned 35. Nothing would stop them, not the death of Kobe Bryant, not a pandemic, not the protests against systemic racism in which they became involved.

The unusual season finished with the Lakers reclaiming their customary position as the league’s signature team.

They should remain there.

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A day after James agreed to extend his contract by two years through the 2022-23 season, Davis accepted on Thursday a $190-million deal over five years, with an early termination option after the fourth year. The contracts became official later in the day.

In short, the Lakers are guaranteed to have James and Davis together for three more seasons. Davis will be on their roster for at least one more season after that.

LeBron James has agreed to a two-year, $85-million contract extension with the Lakers, who could see him become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in 2022-23.

With two foundational players already in place, general manager Rob Pelinka was able to shift his focus to the other parts of the roster this offseason. The Lakers traded for point guard Dennis Schroder and acquired center Marc Gasol. They signed center Montrezl Harrell and guard Wesley Matthews. They re-signed guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and forwards Markieff Morris and Jared Dudley.

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The Lakers figure to be better than they were last season.

How they look in future years will depend on James’ ability to fend off the effects of age. James turns 36 this month.

Davis’ presence makes them ready to respond to the possibilities.

The most likely scenario is that over the next three years, Davis gradually takes over from James the responsibility of being the team’s on-court leader. Dudley said in a videoconference that he expected Davis to contend for the league’s MVP award this season.

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Davis should also be a critical part of the Lakers’ transition to the post-James era, the veteran with championship experience entrusted with recruiting the franchise’s next elite performer.

In two days, the Lakers secured a decade’s worth of stability.


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