Does No. 4 Pick Give Lakers Best Trade Package for Anthony Davis?

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterMay 16, 2019

New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) wears a T-shirt with 'That's All, Folks,' printed on it during player introduction before an NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Golden State Warriors in New Orleans, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Scott Threlkeld)
Scott Threlkeld/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — As the 2019 NBA draft lottery final four results were announced, Kyle Kuzma stood alongside New York Knicks legend Patrick Ewing, Memphis Grizzlies part-owner Elliot Perry and New Orleans Pelicans newly hired executive David Griffin, nervously awaiting the results in his purple blazer with a "hand of the king" pendant.

Representing team owner Jeanie Buss, Kuzma had already brought good fortune as the Lakers defied the odds (90.2 percent likelihood they'd pick 11th or 12th), but the fairy tale ended at No. 4.

Ewing and New York fell from first to third, with Griffin as the big winner of the day. Immediately, the hypothetical was crushed—should the Lakers or Knicks trade Duke's Zion Williamson to the Pelicans for Anthony Davis?—with New Orleans now in position to take the best player in the class.

Still, can Griffin convince Davis to rescind his trade demand and stay with the Pelicans long term? That may not be an easy task, as Shams Charania of The Athletic reported: "Anthony Davis' trade stance has not changed. He still wants a trade."

The Lakers' lottery ascension changes the conversation too. When the two teams engaged before the February trade deadline, in talks led by Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Dell Demps—both no longer with their respective teams—the Lakers were still competing for a playoff spot. Instead of offering a pick that might have landed in the late teens, now Los Angeles has the valuable No. 4 selection.

The ultimate prize: Zion Williamson.
The ultimate prize: Zion Williamson.Nuccio DiNuzzo/Associated Press/Associated Press

When polled at this early stage in the draft process, multiple scouts and executives have Murray State point guard Ja Morant second behind Williamson, followed by Duke's RJ Barrett. The next three selections, in some order, could be Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, Virginia small forward De'Andre Hunter or Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver.

Hunter is the best two-way player of the three, and Garland is the best shooter. Either would be a strong addition to the team's young core, but how invested are the Lakers in developing players given the three-year window to build a championship contender around LeBron James?

In February, Johnson reportedly offered nearly all of the Lakers' prospects at the deadline, including Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Kuzma. In March, Buss called the notion that the Lakers would send out almost anyone not named James "fake news."

Whatever the truth, what matters now is what Buss and the Lakers are willing to give up for Davis. That Jason Kidd is reportedly joining Frank Vogel's staff as an assistant coach, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, suggests keeping and developing Ball remains a priority. And would the Lakers really roll out Kuzma as the face of the team at the lottery only to trade him a month or two later?

Other teams have done worse, and Davis is such a unique player at just 26 years old that Buss and the Lakers need to carefully decide how far to go.

On Tuesday, general manager Rob Pelinka was quick to acknowledge that the No. 4 pick may be available, telling reporters on a conference call: "There are some incredibly talented, impact players there that we're going to study deeply. And then, of course, we'll canvas the league and see what value that pick has."

While the Boston Celtics appeared to be the biggest threat to snag Davis this summer, the Knicks may have leapfrogged the Celtics, who may see Kyrie Irving opt out of his contract and leave as a free agent. Boston can offer Nos. 14, 20 and 22 in June's draft, but collectively, they may not be as valuable as the Lakers' selection at No. 4. The Celtics can also look to include players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and/or Marcus Smart, but would they be willing to part with their young talent for Davis if Irving leaves?

Brandon Ingram driving on Deandre Ayton.
Brandon Ingram driving on Deandre Ayton.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press/Associated Press

Meanwhile, the Knicks may have been disappointed to miss out on Zion, but they still possess a higher pick than the Lakers. The Pelicans might want to keep Duke teammates Williamson and Barrett together, with Jrue Holiday playing his preferred position at off guard. The Knicks also have several young players to offer such as Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and/or Mitchell Robinson. That's a lot for Griffin to consider, and it's enough to probably push the Lakers to make a generous offer if they want to compete.

Ingram may be the most readily available Laker in a trade. He's eligible for a contract extension this summer after a breakthrough season, but he did suffer a season-ending blood clot in early March. After surgery, he was cleared from any blood condition similar to the one that ended Chris Bosh's career, but it could still negatively impact his trade value. In April, Ingram was still recuperating, eager to get back on the court.

Given the Lakers project to be under the salary cap, they wouldn't have to match salary with New Orleans, but an offer of Ingram and the No. 4 pick may not be enough to compete with what New York (or another team) might be willing to deal.

The Knicks may be happy to include whatever it takes to get Davis and still have the cap room to add one or even two more big-name players. The Lakers could still build a superteam by using their cap room on an All-Star like Kawhi Leonard or Irving, but that would mean letting most or all of the young core go—starting with Ball and Ingram—to make a Davis trade cap-worthy.

James has already shown he can win with Irving, and Davis is a better player than Kevin Love. The Lakers would need to round out the roster with shooters and defenders, but they'd immediately be a top contender.

If instead they manage to acquire Leonard, the Lakers would add one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and a serious scorer. Given health and solid veteran acquisitions to flesh out the roster, they would be an immediate threat in the Western Conference, on par or better than the Golden State Warriors, especially if Kevin Durant leaves in free agency.

As far as the rest of the Lakers roster, in moving from 11th to fourth, the team lost roughly $3 million in cap space. It was assumed the team would renounce the rights to veterans such as Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Mike Muscala and Lance Stephenson to have the space to sign a max player. The lottery win may now cost the Lakers the rights to Reggie Bullock as well.

But none of that may matter if the team can land another star signing and/or trade for Davis. Los Angeles got a badly needed win Tuesday in the draft lottery. It may or may not lead to Davis, but the Lakers' good fortune means another nice young core player or the means to make another move in trade to help give James and the franchise a credible chance to compete in the Western Conference.


NBA Draft expert Jonathan Wasserman joins Howard Beck on the Full 48 podcast to discuss the NBA Draft lottery results and the impending fallout, on-site at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. 

           

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

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