Lakers Front Office Face Grim Options After Anthony Davis Injury

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusFeatured Columnist IDecember 19, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 13: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during a 122-118 BostonCeltics overtime win at Crypto.com Arena on December 13, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers entered trade season last week with high hopes of finding a deal to push the franchise back into contention. Instead, Anthony Davis suffered a foot injury on Friday that may derail the season.

Davis is still pursuing treatment options. The Lakers haven't announced the exact nature of the injury, but multiple sources indicate a loss of at least a month, optimistically.

If Davis misses extended time, the team may put the brakes on any serious trade negotiation—at least when considering moves that involve one or both of their available first-round picks (2027 and 2029). Even before Davis was hurt, the team was conflicted internally about sacrificing its future for anything that didn't catapult the franchise back into contention.

Davis will get a timeline soon, but it may not be apparent by the February 9 trade deadline at what level he'll return. That may lead to the team making cosmetic changes instead of a blockbuster.

The Lakers may look for easier options like a cheaper free-agent center (perhaps DeMarcus Cousins) or whatever the team can bring back for Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn and second-round draft considerations.

A Tough Market

Last year, the Lakers found an inflated trade market at the deadline, with teams looking at the pressure LeBron James puts on a franchise to "win now."

When L.A. tried to acquire Bojan Bogdanović from the Utah Jazz before this season, the asking price was a first-round pick. Eventually, Bogdanović was sent by the Jazz to the Detroit Pistons for Kelly Olynyk and Saben Lee without a first.

That's just the Lakers' current reality. They're in a position where they need to pay a premium to improve. The Davis injury only increases the perception of desperation that will jack up prices even higher.

That's not to suggest L.A. is unique. Making deals in the NBA is a challenge. While trade season may unofficially start on December 15 (when most recently signed free agents are eligible to be dealt), most deals wait until the last minute as teams tend to start negotiations with unrealistic demands.

One executive described the annual NBA trade market: "December prices are astronomical. In January, prices are high. By February, they're fair."

The problem for the Lakers, in the absence of Davis, is an urgency to act now. You could argue the urgency was actually already there, with the Lakers on the wrong side of the play-in bubble. They're currently in 12th place in the West at 13-16 after Sunday's win over the Washington Wizards.

It's a Catch-22. If Los Angeles isn't overpaying now, teams will just wait until February. But the Lakers may fall out of playoff contention entirely by February without a healthy Davis.

Can they stay in contention without overpaying for a trade? The calculus is different now: Davis may not ever be healthy enough this season to justify a trade.

The Lakers are familiar with Davis' injury history. He recovered from injury in both of the last two seasons, but in 2020-21, he wasn't able to get through the playoffs, and last year, it was simply too late.

Hard to trade away the future facing that reality.

Bulls a Solution?

If the Lakers decide to take the leap as a buyer, it needs a seller willing to give up real talent. One team much of the league has close eyes on is the 11-18 Chicago Bulls, who continue to plummet in the Eastern Conference.

L.A. has coveted DeMar DeRozan, one of the players it chose to pass on over Russell Westbrook in 2021. If the Bulls were willing to move Nikola Vučević with DeRozan, the Lakers would have a starting-level, former All-Star center who could hold down the middle in Davis' absence.

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 4: Nikola Vucevic #9, Zach LaVine #8 and DeMar DeRozan #11 of the Chicago Bulls talk during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on October 4, 2022 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

DeRozan would give the Lakers another elite scorer and underrated playmaker. Still, he's not a great outside shooter, and such a deal would presumably cost the Lakers Westbrook and at least one of its future firsts.

Internally, the Lakers weren't united on the path forward, specifically with what Chicago might have to offer, and that was before losing Davis. And the Bulls may need at least another month to decide its fate, gauge the market and try to extract the highest return.

Bigger Picture

Finally, the Lakers need to look closely at their long-term prospects. The team has improved throughout the season, but if there's no actual trade that makes the franchise a genuine contender, trading away the future to also fall short this season doesn't add up.

If the Lakers wanted to go the Indiana Pacers route with Myles Turner, Buddy Hield (who was the second-choice to Westbrook last year ahead of DeRozan) and perhaps T.J. McConnell, the 15-16 Pacers are still too competitive in the East to let go of critical veterans. Multiple sources believe Indiana may choose to re-sign Turner this summer, and if so, that's a dead end for the Lakers, even with an offer of both first-round picks.

Perhaps a team like the Charlotte Hornets would send a serviceable center like Mason Plumlee for a second-round pick or two (along with Nunn or Beverley).

The Lakers could still go after Bogdanović, but without a first, the return from the Detroit Pistons might be closer to Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel.

New York Knicks forward Cam Reddish is believed to be available, and at least he could be a piece the team looks to retain long-term if this year is a bust.

Kyle Kuzma, the former Laker now with the Wizards, may be available if Washington continues to flounder, but he'd be a more expensive get for L.A.

The San Antonio Spurs may deal Jakob Poeltl, but not to the Lakers for seconds at this early stage. The Orlando Magic cannot legally trade Mo Bamba until January 15.

The Lakers certainly have options, but under the circumstances, most of them involve overpaying with no real certainty that Davis will be whole enough to make a trade matter—at least for a playoff run this season.

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.