Column: Lakers just handed the franchise to Anthony Davis, and the future feels fragile

Lakers star Anthony Davis waits to be introduced before Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Anthony Davis, who’s spent much of his Lakers sitting and watching, is getting a three-year, $186-million maximum extension.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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The Lakers are now officially Anthony Davis’ team.


The Lakers just anointed Anthony Davis as their cornerstone for the next five seasons.

Lord almighty.

The Lakers made the completely expected move at the first possible moment Friday in giving Davis the maximum contract extension for the maximum amount of money.

All of which leads to maximum angst.

Hold your breath. Cover your eyes. Cross your fingers.

They just handed the franchise to a guy who often has been too brittle to hold it. They just tied their future to an anchor that has been known to drift. They just ensured that the face of their team is going to be … a wince?

Whether you like it or not, the Lakers had to do this. After the way he helped power them to the Western Conference finals last season, after they essentially brought back everybody to make a serious run next season, they had to lock him down quickly and cleanly.


Lakers star forward Anthony Davis agreed to a three-year maximum contract extension that ties him to the team through the 2027-28 season.

Aug. 4, 2023

This is about maintaining momentum. This is about fostering stability. This is about chasing a title while LeBron James still is outracing time. This is about winning now.

If they had not given Davis the extension, he could have been a lame duck next season — no pun intended — and it could have been messy. There could have been uncertainty. There could have been unsettling questions. Is he playing hard enough? Is he protecting himself for free agency?

If they offered him less than the three-year, $186-million maximum extension that he received — that’s $62 million a season! — it also could have been ugly. Would he feel insulted? Would he be openly unhappy? A trade demand waiting to happen?

By giving him the richest annual contract in NBA history, the Lakers solidified their present and cemented their future and, hey, did you see the way Davis dominated Memphis and Golden State in the playoffs? With Davis and James back on board for at least another year together, don’t you think the Lakers will be one of the favorites to unseat Denver?

But, still, sigh …

This is a guy who missed an average of 35 games in the last three seasons with the Lakers. That means he spent nearly 41% of his time off the court. The only exception was the COVID-shutdown season, when the Lakers won a title not coincidentally because Davis had several months of extra rest.

This is a guy who even when he plays appears hurt. At some point in seemingly every game he is writhing on the court under the basket, his lanky frame easily battered by the NBA bruisers. Fans aren’t the only ones who roll their eyes when this happens. There have been countless memes devoted to James’ resigned body language when he’s watching the struggles of his fragile wingman.


Davis’ health is a constant distraction. His strength is a constant worry. His fitness commitment is a constant question.

And, oh yeah, this is a guy who will be 35 when this extension ends.

Until he roared back from his latest foot injury to stay on the court for last spring’s playoff push and ensuing postseason madness — Davis led the NBA in rebounds and blocks in the postseason — there was even much talk in town of trading him this summer. He was that shaky. He was that unpopular.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis drives to the basket past Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis drives to the basket past Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. during Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in May.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

And even when he’s on a dominating roll and staying healthy as he did last spring, he still sometimes disappears

First round, Memphis, Games 2 and 4, he was a combined eight for 27 from the field.

Second round, Golden State, Game 2, he was five for 11 with only seven rebounds.

Western Conference finals, Denver, Games 2 and 4, he was a combined 10 for 30.

Only one of those five games was a Lakers victory. His inconsistency became so predictable, the buzz was that Davis had settled into the role of being a great player only every other game, a trend for which there was no reasonable explanation.


“I just look at it as, I miss shots,” he frustratingly told reporters.

He added, “I go out and try to compete to the best of my ability every night, to help the team win and sometimes it doesn’t work out that way when we win, but I know, especially at this time of the year, I leave it all out on the floor and that’s all I can do.”

You know who just left it all out on the floor? The Lakers, that’s who.

Jeanie Buss just made a huge investment. Rob Pelinka just handed out a historic contract. An organization known for having undying faith in its superstars has stuck its neck out again, all for a player with so much potential yet with so much still to prove.

Bob Thate, a Southland high school star and college All-American, was a reknowned shooting coach for high school, college and pro basketball players.

Aug. 1, 2023

It’s payback time. Davis owes the Lakers his best focus. He owes the Lakers his best fitness. He owes the Lakers his constant presence on the court for the next five seasons, and if he can manage that, this thing could work.

After all, in Davis’ only two Lakers seasons in which he finished healthy, the team won a championship and advanced to the conference finals.

Then again, in the two seasons he finished injured, the Lakers failed to make the playoffs and were knocked out in the first round.

One can look at this contract extension like a glass half full, or a glass half empty, but it’s really all about the actual glass.


It can be stunningly beautiful. It also is easily breakable.