The Los Angeles Lakers' offseason is likely just about wrapped up. In are Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, Dennis Schroder and Wesley Matthews. Gone are Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee.
And returning are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Markieff Morris and...Anthony Davis?
While everyone is rightfully assuming that Davis will sign a lucrative extension with the Lakers this offseason, he hasn't done so to this point. But there could be a very interesting reason for that, as Brian Windhorst noted on ESPN Radio on Monday (h/t RealGM):
"I think there are two star players waiting to sign to see what Giannis Antetokounmpo does. That's Anthony Davis. He's coming back to the Lakers, but he may change the alteration of his contract, the way it's structured, to give the Lakers a window, if not for Giannis but for somebody in a one-plus-one. Because that's what LeBron James is now on."
The other star player he mentioned was Bam Adebayo, who has since signed a five-year max extension that could be worth up to $195 million.
OK, let's unpack this.
If Antetokounmpo doesn't sign an extension by Dec. 21 with the Milwaukee Bucks, he'll be a free agent after the 2020-21 season. James, as Windhorst noted, is under contract this season for $39.2 million and has a $41 million player option for the 2021-22 campaign. Davis could choose to go that route as well, leaving himself with maximum flexibility heading into what could be a wild 2021 summer.
Remember, it isn't just the Greek Freak who could head toward free agency. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jrue Holiday also have player options for the 2021-22 season. Players such as Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Andre Drummond, Victor Oladipo, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge will be straight up free agents.
We could see another seismic shift of talent around the league, much as we did before last season. The ability to hit free agency yet again next summer would offer Davis and James the ability to opt out of their deals to help the Lakers bring another star aboard before re-signing with the team.
It's fair to question if the Greek Freak would be the right fit with James and Davis, but both players opting out at the same time would give them a ton of leverage when it comes to building a roster around them. James signed similarly short deals with the Cavaliers in his second stint with the team, ostensibly to ensure the Cavs were consistently motivated to surround him with talent.
If Antetokounmpo doesn't sign his extension, next summer could be wild. New super teams could form. It's easy to see why Davis might want to have flexibility to meet a potentially changing NBA landscape.
We've perhaps already seen an example of Davis' input factoring into the team's roster-building this year in the retaining of Morris, per Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
"I think the market was getting really, really dry for (Morris) and some players, so in this case Markieff knew the best place for him was with the Lakers, but how about this? There is a guy named Anthony Davis who wanted him back. He wanted him back because he's tough, because he plays defense, he rebounds, he can shoot the three, open up the court and again he's a versatile player. One thing the Lakers really loved having and have had success with is players who can play offense and play defense, and don't mind being a good teammate and in the locker room."
Morris played well last season, averaging 5.9 points and 3.0 rebounds per game in the postseason, primarily coming off the bench, while shooting 42.0 percent from three. He was the ideal role player for the Lakers, and his return appears to be at least somewhat a reminder of the pull Davis has with the Lakers.
Keep that pull in mind if Davis indeed signs a two-year extension this offseason with a player option in the second season.