It is very possible both teams at the heart of this blockbuster trade — the Lakers and Pelicans — get what they want out of this deal. Which is rare. It’s the goal, no GM makes a trade thinking they lost the trade, but usually someone comes out on the short end.
This time, the Lakers — a team that has missed the playoffs six years in a row — got their man now have two of the top seven players in the league. Meanwhile, the Pelicans have (or will after Thursday’s draft) Zion Williamson and are set up in the short term to be entertaining, and in four years or so could be a beast in their own right.
But there are losers to go with the winners in this trade, here is the breakdown.
Winner: Anthony Davis.
The man got where he wanted to go. He felt he toiled in obscurity in New Orleans, and that the small market franchise had done a poor job building a team around him (which is absolutely true). Davis believed he wasn’t getting the endorsements and attention he deserved. That changes now (and be careful what you wish for). This summer he will lead Team USA at the World Cup in China, then come back and play next to LeBron James in Los Angeles — the brightest of all spotlights — with a team that has the potential to contend. Davis got exactly what he wanted, now he just has to stay healthy and take advantage of it.
Winner: LeBron James.
At LeBron’s first press conference in Los Angeles, he said he knew he needed to be patient as they built this team to contend around him… and everyone knew that wasn’t going to happen. He’s 34, he not at that point in his career where patience is an option. Now he has another elite star around him — and a perfect complementary player for his game. It should work. The pressure now is on Laker GM Rob Pelinka to fill out the roster with role players who can make this a contender, because star power alone is not enough in today’s NBA.
Loser: Boston Celtics.
Danny Ainge had a plan and haul of assets to pull it off (thanks again Brooklyn). The Celtics signed Gordon Hayward, traded for Kyrie Irving, drafted well and developed those players, things were coming together… and then it all fell apart. Boston didn’t land Paul George or Kawhi Leonard in trades. Hayward had the freak injury and is not back to his old self yet. Irving became disenfranchised this season and now he has one foot out the door (likely to Brooklyn). Rich Paul kept saying Davis would only be a rental in Boston. All of that meant Ainge couldn’t go all-in on a Davis trade like he had planned (throwing in Jayson Tatum specifically), and once again Boston missed out. Ainge is a great GM, don’t get me wrong, but this shows how hard to put together these multi-year plans in the NBA and pull them off. In an East with Toronto (who may or may not be the same after this summer), Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, Boston has a lot of work to do to get back to contender status.
Winner: Rich Paul.
Fans may not like his tactics — and there were miscalculations along the way — but the job of an agent is to get his clients where they want and what they want. Rich Paul has done precisely that. The man orchestrated this. His client LeBron is in Los Angeles where he wants to be, and now has a running partner in another Paul client, one who now has the spotlight he wanted. It may not have happened on the timeline Paul wanted, but he may be the biggest winner in this whole thing.
Loser: The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers.
The Knicks have big free agent plans this summer, and maybe Kevin Durant still comes (and plays, eventually). However, the longshot dream of landing Davis is dead, and worse yet now there is another major player for elite free agents in the game. One that is a better draw than New York as you read this. Maybe this summer works out for New York, but in the past week the market got a lot more complex.
Twenty-four hours ago, the Los Angeles Clippers were the best free agent destination in Los Angeles. Now…. they may still land Kawhi Leonard (or he may choose to stay in Toronto for a year or two, who knows?) but the Lakers are still the Lakers in that market. And now the Lakers are the big free agent draw.
Winner: David Griffin and the New Orleans Pelicans.
When the Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery — and essentially the rights to draft Zion Williamson — the calculus of this trade changed a little. They now had the potential superstar/top-five player, it became a matter of building along that timeline. This trade does that. New team VP David Griffin had leverage (the Lakers needed a star and this was their best chance) and he used it to get a haul. Maybe the Pelicans keep Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, maybe those two get flipped for other players, and that same thing is true of the draft picks, starting with the No. 4 in this draft. Bottom line, Griffin got this franchise the building blocks to contend, and while there is work to do to reach that level in the short term this team is going to be fun to watch.
Loser: Dell Demps and Magic Johnson.
The nuts and bolts of this trade could have been worked out at the trade deadline if egos and emotions had been put aside. They weren’t. In New Orleans, there was anger at the timing and nature of Rich Paul’s trade request, which led to people above Demps shooting down the idea of any trade with the Lakers. Demps wouldn’t even talk to Pelinka — only Magic, and barely that — and wasn’t able to manage up and get the people above him on board (Griffin pulled that off). Magic, when he was in the office, bungled this and killed the Lakers’ locker room chemistry in the process. That it got done this June, and with far fewer back-and-forth rumors, doesn’t reflect well on the guys out the door.
Winner: Lakers fans (and their sense of exceptionalism).
There is some pushback on this trade in Lakers nation. Fans become emotionally attached to and overvalue draft picks the team brings in, fans watch them develop and see them as “their guy.” Those fans don’t want to give up Ingram and Ball and Josh Hart (and a lot of picks), and they are right that is a lot of assets… and the Lakers got Anthony freakin’ Davis. The Lakers now have two of the top seven players on the face of the earth. This is what Lakers fans expect — stars to come to them, and for them to contend. In Los Angeles, Lakers’ exceptionalism is a real thing. That faith has been rewarded. Savor that.
Loser: LaVar Ball.
Does this even need to be explained?