When he was hired to lead the New Orleans Pelicans front office, David Griffin expressed a desire to work towards convincing perennial All-Star Anthony Davis to remain with the team. But Davis stuck to his request to be traded, and on Saturday it was reported that the Pelicans have found a trade partner. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers have come to terms on a deal that will send Davis westward in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three future first-round picks.
Included in those three picks is the fourth overall pick in the June 20 NBA Draft, and the Pelicans will also receive the Lakers' first round picks in 2021 (reverse protected; New Orleans will receive the pick if its in the top-8) and 2024. If the 2021 pick doesn't go to New Orleans it will convey to 2022 and be unprotected. As for the 2024 first, the Pelicans can choose to take the Lakers' pick in either that draft or the 2025 draft. New Orleans will also have the opportunity to swap firsts in 2023, and the swap is unprotected. Pick-wise that's an incredible haul for Griffin and the Pelicans, who can use those assets either to select players or to make other deals.
The deal won’t become official until July 6, but Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka can now sell the opportunity to play alongside Davis and LeBron James to the team’s targets in free agency. Also of importance to the Lakers is the fact that they were able to hold onto Kyle Kuzma, who has been the most consistent member of the team’s “young core” from a production standpoint the last two seasons. Below we’ll take a look at this trade and what it means for both teams, beginning with the Lakers.
Anthony Davis’ arrival gives LA another superstar
With two key members of Golden State’s core (Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson) suffering serious injuries during the NBA Finals, it would be understandable if there was a greater sense of urgency on the Lakers’ part to get this deal done with an eye towards making a run at the top spot in the West in 2019-20. Adding Davis to the mix gives the team another standout to pair with LeBron James, a far cry from the haul Pelinka and then-team president Magic Johnson brought in last summer.
In 2018-19 Davis posted averages of 25.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.4 blocks, 1.6 steals and 0.9 three-pointers per game, with shooting percentages of 51.7% from the field, 33.1% from three and 79.4% from the foul line. After playing in 75 game two consecutive seasons his total dropped down to 56 in 2018-19, with the Pelicans taking the approach of “resting” him more following the trade request. There’s no disputing the fact that Davis is one of the NBA’s top talents, and at 26 years of age his prime won’t be ending any time soon.
With the aforementioned James set to turn 35 in late December and coming off of a groin injury that sidelined him for much of the second half of the season, the Lakers had to add a true superstar this offseason. In Davis they’ve managed to do that, but the question of whether or not he’ll be a Laker for the long-term will hang over the franchise next season. Agent Rich Paul has said, both before and after the trade, that Davis fully intends to go into free agency in the summer of 2020. The good news for Los Angeles is that they have Davis’ Bird rights, which gives them the ability to offer the best deal (five-year max with an 8% annual increase) when the time comes.
What’s also worth watching when it comes to the Lakers’ acquisition of Davis is how this impacts their moves in free agency this summer. With the trade of Ball and Rajon Rondo set to be a free agent, there’s a clear need for an established point guard on this roster. And according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the Lakers plan to make a run at Hornets point guard Kemba Walker this summer. With Walker making an All-NBA team this season the Hornets can offer him the five-year “super max,” but Charlotte has a lot of work to do in order to produce a roster capable of contending in the East.
With the combination of James and Davis, the Lakers can use this to convince Walker (or any other high-level free agent, for that matter) that the team is on the cusp of contention after missing out on the playoffs this season. The Lakers will have $23.7 million in cap space when free agency begins, which in most circumstances wouldn't be enough to entice an elite free agent. So if the Lakers hope to attract another player of that caliber they'll have to hope that the chance to contend is enough of a selling point to get a free agent to leave some money on the table.
But with that being said, adding consistent perimeter shooting to the mix also needs to be a priority for the Lakers front office after they failed to do so last summer. Given the financials this may be the priority; filling out the roster with multiple players who are consistent shooters as opposed to chasing another big name.
Pelicans do well with combination of young talent, draft picks
When a player makes it clear that he wants out, some franchises can take a hit with the resulting loss of leverage. That wasn’t the case for New Orleans, which managed to add both players and assets and the form of future draft picks. And those picks represent a massive haul for New Orleans. Griffin and the Pelicans brass can either use those picks for themselves, or they can use the picks in other deals as they reshape the franchise post-Davis. Zion Williamson, the presumed top overall pick in this year’s draft, will be one building block and veteran guard Jrue Holiday will be another.
As for the three who will join the Pelicans when the deal becomes official, Ball, Hart and Ingram were all thought of positively but consistency has been an issue for each. In the case of Ball, who has missed at least 30 games in each of his first two seasons in the NBA, his shot has yet to come around. He played in 47 games in 2018-19, averaging 9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks and 1.6 three-pointers per game, with shooting splits of 40.6/32.9/41.7. And the field goal and three-point percentages were improvements from his rookie season, when he shot 36.0% from the field and 30.5% from beyond the arc.
Ball has the size, instincts and athletic ability to continue to be a factor defensively, and he’s also a good passer, which could work well alongside the aforementioned Holiday. In each of the last two seasons Alvin Gentry has used Holiday alongside another point guard for significant stretches, with Rajon Rondo being that player in 2017-18 and Elfrid Payton (when healthy) in 2018-19. He could do the same with Ball, which would help cover for Lonzo’s poor perimeter shooting while freeing up Holiday to do more scoring at the off-guard spot. Interestingly enough Ball’s three-point percentage was higher than that of Holiday (32.5%) last season, but Jrue shot 47.2% from the field overall.
Hart appeared in 67 games last season, averaging 7.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.4 three-pointers per game. Playing 25.6 minutes per night, Hart shot 40.7% from the field, 33.6% from three and 68.8% from the foul line, with the first two percentages decreasing significantly from his rookie season. As a rookie the former Villanova Wildcat shot 46.9% from the field and 39.6% from three, so he’s proven himself to be a capable shooter at the NBA level. The issue was the fact that the Lakers had multiple players that needed the ball in their hands offensively, but few who could consistently make perimeter shots.
Last but not least is Ingram, who had the best 2018-19 of the three former Lakers. In 52 games played he averaged 18.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.5 steals and 0.6 three-pointers per game, shooting 49.7% from the field, 33.0% from three and 67.5% from the foul line. The two issues for Ingram in his young career have been consistency and staying healthy, as after appearing in 79 games as a rookie he missed a total of 53 games in 2017-18 (23) and 2018-19 (30). He’s certainly shown signs of being the impact player that the Lakers believed he was when taking him with the second overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, but New Orleans will need Ingram to stay healthy and play as he did down the stretch after the Lakers shut down LeBron James.
Fantasy-wise Ball finished the season ranked the highest of the three newest Pelicans, but none were top-100 players in nine-category leagues and Ingram was outside of the top-200. As for eight-category leagues Ball was just outside of the top-100, with Ingram (161st) and Hart (194th) next in line.
Both teams did well in the end
The Lakers made this move with one goal in mind: immediate contention for a title, with the uncertainty in the Bay Area likely acting as another catalyst. There’s still a need for perimeter shooting, and landing another star in free agency would also help, but there’s no denying that the franchise got better (in the short term) on Saturday.
As for New Orleans, David Griffin managed to bring in a good haul of young talent and future draft picks in exchange for a player who had no desire to spend another season with the franchise. How Ball, Hart and Ingram perform will determine how this deal is viewed from the Pelicans’ angle, but New Orleans is in a better position with regards to this rebuild than it was pre-trade.