Landing Spots and Trade Packages for Lakers Star Anthony Davis
Discount Bill Simmons' comments on the Los Angeles Lakers trading Anthony Davis as flimsy or speculative if you want. They are certainly far from a sourced story. But understand that almost every eventual trade of an NBA superstar starts with whispers just like this.
"There’s some buzz, just some buzzing that AD might be available," Simmons said Monday on his podcast. "That is a Plan B because the Westbrook trade, or what they can get for Westbrook, whether you want to give future assets, maybe that doesn’t even make sense for the Lakers."
That last part about how trading Russell Westbrook doesn't make sense is the key here. It is the undeniably logical support for the Lakers looking elsewhere in their effort to improve the team—now and for whatever remains of LeBron James' dwindling late-prime years.
Clearly, Los Angeles cannot trade Westbrook for positive value. If it could have, it would have by now. Even more clearly, the Lakers aren't going to deal James.
The above facts are why what Simmons reported (if that's even the right term) is more than just idle chatter. Dealing Davis isn't just a way to change the course of a franchise circling the drain.
It might be the only way.
The Trade: Los Angeles Lakers receive Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets for Anthony Davis and an unprotected 2029 first-round pick
The Lakers entered play Monday at 2-7, leading only the tanktacular Houston Rockets in the West standings. And yet, you could argue the Brooklyn Nets have still had an uglier year—an extension of an offseason marked by trade demands and calls from Kevin Durant to axe head coach Steve Nash (check) and GM Sean Marks (no check...yet).
Brooklyn's asking price for Durant over the summer was laughably high given the dearth of flexibility around the league and KD's short list of destinations. Having found no takers willing to surrender "two All-Star caliber talents and a cache of draft picks,” per Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, and surely concerned that KD's next value-depleting trade request may not be far off, the Nets might operate more reasonably now.
Maybe they'd take one of the 75 best players in NBA history and a highly valuable unprotected first-rounder.
Davis, like nearly every NBA player, isn't the offensive force Durant is. But he could address Brooklyn's key weaknesses on the other end. The Nets are 23rd in defensive efficiency and dead last in opponent offensive rebound rate. With Kyrie Irving's future as a Net far from certain, trading Durant could leave Brooklyn without a go-to option on offense. But the Nets were essentially built to surround a star with shooting, and they'd still have Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Patty Mills, Royce O'Neale, Cam Thomas and maybe even Irving flanking Ben Simmons and Davis.
Brooklyn downgrades in overall talent by moving KD for AD, but the roster almost makes more sense with a defensive anchor like the latter. And let's not forget the most significant factor of all: Durant, by his own admission, does not want to be there.
From the Lakers' side, this isn't complicated.
Durant just won Eastern Conference Player of the Week, his fourth such honor since the last time AD won his most recent one...on Dec. 9, 2019. Yes, Durant is four-and-a-half years Davis' senior. And sure, KD has an injury history with a torn Achilles on it. But there's really no debating that right now and for the last several seasons, Durant is and has been the better player. Davis has made four All-NBA teams; Durant has made 10, with his last one coming more recently (2021-22) than Davis' (2019-20).
Outside of an anomalous bubble run in 2020, Davis hasn't looked worthy of receiving the torch LeBron will eventually pass. Durant would give the Lakers something more valuable than an heir to the franchise throne: a player who's better than James today.
The Trade: Los Angeles Lakers receive Zach LaVine*, Patrick Williams, Goran Dragić and a 2023 first-round pick (via POR) from the Chicago Bulls for Anthony Davis
When you're as deep in the speculative weeds as we are in an exercise like this, you cling to any shred of concrete reporting you can find. Failing that, you source rival executives who basically say "this would be a cool idea."
So here's a Western Conference GM making the case to Sean Deveney of Heavy Sports that an AD-for-LaVine swap could work.
“But the one thing I’ve said, if they were to make a deal, would be to send him back to Chicago for another Klutch guy, Zach LaVine,” a Western Conference GM told Deveney. “Davis is from Chicago, he would like to play there. LaVine played at UCLA and has said he wants to play in L.A. I think that is the only deal that would sort of satisfy all parties. Because, look, the Lakers wanted AD to be the guy who took over the franchise after LeBron, and it is obvious he is not the guy to do that. Maybe LaVine can be?”
The homecoming angle rarely factors in trades or signings, but this isn't the first time Chicago has come up in Davis chatter. More importantly, Davis would be an intriguing fit alongside DeMar DeRozan, a theoretically healthy (someday) Lonzo Ball and Nikola Vučević.
The Bulls score fewer points in the paint than any team in the league, and opponents are shooting 7.8 percentage points better at the rim on the other end with current starter Vučević in the game. Davis could shore things up around the basket on offense and defense, helping Chicago retake control of that critical area of the floor. Vučević would still be around to stretch the court, all the while guarding the other team's 5 so AD could roam, ideally like a healthy Robert Williams III did to great effect in Boston last season.
The Lakers get back an ace shooter who can play on or off the ball in LaVine, a promising defense-first prospect in Williams, ball-handling insurance in Dragić and a 2023 first-rounder they could use to sweeten a future Westbrook deal or, less likely, pocket to restock their depleted store of draft assets.
This deal wouldn't immediately change L.A.'s fortunes like a hypothetical Durant acquisition, but it brings back shooting and desperately needed future assets to flip or keep, all while sending Davis home to play for a team that needs what he brings.
*LaVine cannot be traded until Jan. 15.
New York Knicks
The Trade: Los Angeles Lakers receive RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin, Quentin Grimes, 2023 first-round pick, protected 2023 first-round picks via DET, WAS, DAL, 2025 first-round pick via MIL from New York Knicks for Anthony Davis
If the Lakers ever trade Davis, they'll probably do it for a package that brings back a single premium asset. It's generally bad business to accept four quarters for a dollar, but the reasons most teams shy away from constructions like this don't quite apply here.
For starters, the entire back end of the Lakers roster is made up of fungible, barely-in-the-league types who could be waived to make space without much regret. In addition, that haul of future first-rounders would sweeten the pot and provide transactional flexibility L.A. lacks. Perhaps acquiring so many picks would make the Lakers more comfortable with a Westbrook deal that cost two of their own.
This is mostly about AD, though, so we need to wrestle with his fit on the Knicks. And right up front, the somewhat outdated narrative of New York hunting for stars is doing a lot of work here. Then again, what were all of this past offseason's asset-hoarding machinations about if not to swing a big deal like this?
A potential starting lineup of Jalen Brunson, Immanuel Quickley Evan Fournier/Cam Reddish, Julius Randle and Davis would be an upgrade over New York's current starters because, well...almost anything would. The Knicks are getting nowhere (again) with their starters—Brunson, Fournier, Barrett, Randle and Robinson—after struggling similarly with the first unit last season. You know the issue is real because notoriously inflexible head coach Tom Thibodeau has already made tweaks.
The Knicks have been mediocre across the board to start the year, and poor opponent shooting luck could mean something much worse than break-even ball is ahead. Based on the shots New York is giving up, its effective field-goal percentage allowed should rank 23rd in the league. So far, teams have gone cold on quality looks, and the Knicks are skating by with the No. 4 effective field-goal percentage allowed. Davis could lend some legitimacy to the defense, and his perimeter skills would mean Knicks guards and wings wouldn't constantly keep running into Mitchell Robinson's man camped in the lane.
*Robinson can't be traded until Dec. 15.
The Trade: Los Angeles Lakers receive Christian Wood, Spencer Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, unprotected first-round picks in 2025, 2027 and 2029, first-round swap rights in 2024, 2026 and 2028 from the Dallas Mavericks for Anthony Davis
This deal is more in keeping with the trends we saw emerge over the summer, in which teams coughed up the rights to their drafts for the better part of a decade to land a ceiling-raising star.
If Dejounte Murray was worth three firsts and a swap, and if Donovan Mitchell was worth three firsts and two swaps (plus some legit starting-caliber young talent), the Mavericks surrendering three firsts and three swaps doesn't seem out of step with the new market. Remember, too, these first-rounders are coming from the team that employs Luka Dončić. Maybe one or two of them will be valuable, but the Mavs have to suspect the presence of the game's top young superstar will insulate them from giving up anything in the lottery.
Los Angeles gets to participate in the draft again, and it adds three high-end rotation pieces who can shoot. It's not totally fair to think of it this way, but sending Davis out for a package like this would almost make the Lakers whole again by replacing so many of the picks they lost to acquire AD in the first place. Because they're coming from Dallas, the selections aren't as valuable as the ones L.A. sent to New Orleans. But that championship win in 2020 makes the whole operation worthwhile.
In Davis, the Mavericks would finally get the second star they've been searching for—one whose defensive impact far exceeds what Kristaps Porzingis brought, and one who actually comes with championship experience.
The Mavericks could close playoff games with a lineup of Dončić, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Davis that could wreak havoc on defense and offer enough shooting to survive. Building out the roster from there would take some work, particularly with no more draft picks to deal. Suddenly, Hardaway and Josh Green would find themselves thrust into roles they might not be equipped to handle.
From Dallas' side of things, this is a terrifying all-in bet on Davis. He would have to be a no-questions-asked superstar for the duration of his current deal, which runs out in 2024 (player option for 2024-25) and then for another handful of seasons after re-signing (not a given on any front!) to justify all the assets going to Los Angeles. Playing next to Dončić, who operates offensively as much like a prime LeBron James as anyone in the game, might be the best way to get AD back to his bubble levels.