On other side of monumental trade, Anthony Davis finds joy

Lakers star Anthony Davis
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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Anthony Davis got his desired trade to the Lakers, won a title in his first season with Los Angeles then signed a max contract. But that doesn’t fully capture how wonderful the last year-and-a-half has been for him.

“I was a meme!” Davis said giddily.

Davis was talking about video of him crying as the NBA Finals ended…

…not the picture of him poking his head into LeBron James‘ press conference earlier in the bubble:

Davis is something that seems increasingly rare in the social-media era: a happy NBA star.

All it took was temporarily shattering his reputation, accepting a secondary role and sacrificing 10s of millions of dollars.

But his plan worked. After becoming a villain for requesting a trade from the Pelicans and enduring a lengthy trade saga, Davis found relief as soon as he arrived in Los Angeles.

“I was in a different headspace,” Davis said. “I was happy.”

Davis wasn’t taking a premature championship victory lap. “I didn’t think we were going to be able to do it in the first year,” Davis said. He was just content in his new his situation.

Obviously, winning the title only added gratification.

I know what you’re thinking: OF COURSE Davis is happy. He got everything he wanted and won. But players getting everything they want and winning doesn’t always satisfy them.

Davis could have stayed with the Pelicans, continue to excel individually and sign a super-max extension worth nearly $222 million. It would’ve been the largest deal in NBA history (a record broken by Giannis Antetokounmpo last offseason).

“It was something to definitely think about,” Davis said. “It’s a ton of money.”

But there was a tension around Davis in New Orleans. Mostly, it stemmed from losing.

“Your legacy can be you have a ton of money but you’re not a winner,” Davis said. “And I didn’t want that to be part of my legacy.”

Not only does Davis’ legacy now feature a ring, it’ll also include him being the centerpiece of one of the most-consequential trades in NBA history.

Davis is just the ninth player traded in the midst of superstardom, defined as making an All-NBA first team both before and after the deal (not counting sign-and-trades):

  • Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans to Los Angeles Lakers in 2019)
  • Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets to Los Angeles Clippers in 2011)
  • Kevin Garnett (Minnesota Timberwolves to Boston Celtics in 2007)
  • Shaquille O’Neal (Los Angeles Lakers to Miami Heat in 2004)
  • Jason Kidd (Phoenix Suns to New Jersey Nets in 2001)
  • Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers to Phoenix Suns in 1992)
  • Moses Malone (Houston Rockets to Philadelphia 76ers in 1982)
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks to Los Angeles Lakers in 1975)
  • Wilt Chamberlain (San Francisco Warriors to Philadelphia 76ers in 1965)

Of those nine, Davis was the youngest at the time of his trade. The Lakers obviously surrendered a boatload to get him.

But Davis has already proven to be worth the cost. At just 27, he’ll continue to add to the Lakers’ return.

New Orleans’ side of the trade doesn’t look half bad, either. Brandon Ingram has already developed into a star. The Lakers still owe the Pelicans two more first-round picks and a first-round swap.

Nobody will determine the value of that last pick, to be conveyed in 2024 or 2025 at New Orleans’ option, like Davis. He surprisingly locked in with the Lakers through at least 2024 – a year longer than LeBron, who signed his own contract extension last offseason.

Davis’ contentment seems to transcend any single element of his situation. Yes, it’s playing with LeBron. Yes, it’s winning. Yes, it’s being in a big market – including Michelob tapping him for its Super Bowl commercial:

Though we often know far less about celebrities than we believe, Davis says his recent professional life has been just as charmed as it appears from the outside.

“It’s been great. It’s been amazing,” Davis said. “Nothing I can complain about.”