NBA Insider Buzz: Anthony Davis Injury Complicates Lakers' Trade Deadline

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusFeatured Columnist IJanuary 10, 2023

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 07: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on before the game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 07, 2023 in Sacramento, 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. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

With a month to go until the trade deadline, the jumble known as the NBA standings has much of the league thrown for a loop.

Supposed contenders like the Phoenix Suns and L.A. Clippers have lost six straight. The Los Angeles Lakers are not only in range of the play-in but an actual playoff spot in the top six. That's playing without Anthony Davis (foot). His situation remains uncertain as he inches his way back to a return.

The Lakers are one of the potential buyers in the slowly emerging trade market, but can Davis get back on the floor—or perhaps more importantly, stay on the floor—to justify the team making a deal? For a more typical basketball injury, like a strained hamstring, a setback might lead to another few weeks or even a month of rest. A setback for Davis, who has a loose bone spur in his foot, would almost certainly mean surgery and the end of his 2022-23 campaign.

If that were to be the case, the team may be less likely to include a future first-round pick, instead shopping for the best return it can find for Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn, Damian Jones and second-round considerations. That might be players like Cam Reddish of the New York Knicks, Alec Burks of the Detroit Pistons or even Buddy Hield of the Indiana Pacers.

The emergence of Thomas Bryant in Davis' absence and strong recent play from Dennis Schröder could lead the Lakers to add a couple of wings. The bigger swings, be it Pistons shooter Bojan Bogdanović for a first—or a more massive Russell Westbrook deal—remain dependent on Davis' health.

The Lakers like to chase stars, for better or for worse. L.A. may not make any move until it's certain that a shot at a player like Bradley Beal is out of the question.

But it all depends on Davis' health. With the Western Conference wide open and Los Angeles still in the mix after both a difficult start to the season and the Davis foot injury, the Lakers would be eager to improve ahead of the trade deadline.

Of course, the danger would be Davis returning with a vengeance, inspiring the front office to make a deal that gives away future first-round consideration(s), only for Davis to get shut down later with foot pain. L.A. went through something similar in 2021, falling to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs when Davis was sidelined with a groin injury.

If the Pistons' stance was to hold on to Bogdanović until the summer if L.A. doesn't offer an unprotected first in 2027 or 2029, should the Lakers be making that gamble on a player who will be 34 when the playoffs start?

If that answer is "yes," then Davis better make it through the year—and there's no guarantee he will, even if he looks great over the next few weeks.

Paraphrasing Lakers executive Rob Pelinka, the team can only trade their picks once. If they do, they better do so wisely.

Trade Groupings a Month Out

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

After polling multiple executives, agents and other NBA sources, teams can be grouped into different tiers a month ahead of the deadline. Naturally, that will change by health, standings and several other factors that can be difficult to predict.

Several franchises are believed to be in a holding pattern—open to smaller moves but unlikely to do something significant. Most are contenders or solid teams unwilling to break up chemistry for marginal improvement—not worth the risk or expense. They include the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings.

The Bulls are the wild card of the bunch, as many external sources believe the team should go in a different direction with players like Nikola Vučević, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. But they also seem to collectively think the Bulls will ride it out, perhaps looking for a minor deal for Coby White.

The Timberwolves would like to improve but may not have the pieces to do so outside of Jaylen Nowell and Naz Reid. The Nuggets would like to add a bench defender, sources say.

The next group are opportunistic. They don't necessarily need a trade at the deadline but are more likely to take advantage of the right offer. Those include the Clippers (looking to add a big, some speculate possibly John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks), Knicks (perhaps a run at Kyle Kuzma if the Washington Wizards fall further out of the postseason picture), Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz.

Per NBA sources, the absentee tier includes the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic, potential sellers that haven't been active yet on the market.

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 28: Mason Plumlee #24 of the Charlotte Hornets and Admiral Schofield #25 of the Orlando Magic fight for position during the second quarter at Amway Center on October 28, 2022 in Orlando, Florida.  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. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Two teams are buyers with their cap space, looking for draft compensation to take on salary. The San Antonio Spurs are eager to add via trade, while the Pacers are still negotiating an extension with Indiana center Myles Turner. If that stalls, Turner could end up on the trade block again.

The Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets are sellers but are "asking for too much" for players like Bogdanović and Eric Gordon.

"They both want first-round picks for guys over 30," one source said of the Pistons and Rockets. "They may be willing to wait until the summer since both Bojan and Gordon are under contract."

The wild-card teams include the Atlanta Hawks (shopping Collins, Justin Holiday and others), Washington Wizards (will they shop Beal, Kuzma, Rui Hachimura?) and Golden State Warriors (will they trade any of James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga or Moses Moody?).

The Bulls may belong in the next tier of wild cards, though pessimism from those polled dropped them to the holding-pattern tier.

Finally, the "looking to add" group includes the Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks (a Jae Crowder suitor), Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Lakers. Some wonder if the Suns will be more aggressive to add salary or trade draft compensation with the team in the process of a sale. As noted, Los Angeles's willingness to deal will be measured by Davis' health status.

Cut-Down Date Passes

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 4: Danny Green #14 of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on January 4, 2023 at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 2023 NBAE (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Most NBA contracts are guaranteed when signed, but some need to get through the league's January 7 cut-down day to lock in for the remainder of the season.

Unfortunately for Kemba Walker, the Dallas Mavericks let the veteran guard go Friday. The San Antonio Spurs chose to keep Stanley Johnson, instead waiving Gorgui Dieng to make room for Noah Vonleh in trade from the Boston Celtics. Vonleh was cut immediately, and Dieng has re-signed on a 10-day contract.

Only a few were let go ahead of the deadline, including Chima Moneke of the Sacramento Kings and Justin Champagnie of the Toronto Raptors (cut in late December). Instead, the list of players now locked in for the rest of the year is much longer:

  • Atlanta Hawks: Vit Krejci, Tyrese Martin
  • Boston Celtics: Justin Jackson, Luke Kornet
  • Brooklyn Nets: Markieff Morris, Edmond Sumner, Yuta Watanabe
  • Charlotte Hornets: Dennis Smith Jr.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: Lamar Stevens
  • Indiana Pacers: Oshae Brissett, James Johnson
  • Los Angeles Lakers: Wenyen Gabriel, Austin Reaves
  • Memphis Grizzlies: Danny Green
  • Miami Heat: Haywood Highsmith
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: Nathan Knight, Jaylen Nowell, Austin Rivers
  • New Orleans Pelicans: Jose Alvarado
  • New York Knicks: Ryan Arcidiacono, Svi Mykhailiuk
  • Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac
  • Phoenix Suns: Jock Landale
  • Sacramento Kings: Matthew Dellavedova, KZ Okpala
  • San Antonio Spurs: Stanley Johnson

Some were easy decisions, like Reaves and Alvarado, who play essential roles in their respective rotations. The Magic had $16 million of Isaac's $17.4 million already locked in. Almost $7 million of Green's $10 million salary was previously guaranteed.

Like Dieng with San Antonio, teams can still cut players with guaranteed salary—but they'll still receive total compensation.

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