Richard: Lakers’ aggressive pursuit of Anthony Davis may have cost them their future
Will Richard | Friday, February 8, 2019
In the past few years, we have observed a shift in the sports culture: The era of building and developing through the draft has, in most cases, died off.
Rather, the new movement in sports culture reflects a heightened emphasis on aggressive moves through front-office management via trades or free agency to acquire as much talent as possible by any means necessary. In other words, most organizations are adopting a “win now” mentality.
From a broad scale, this coincides with the overall trend within society; people increasingly want their news, food and travel to be faster and easier. Sports fans no longer have the patience for 10 years of “building” a team, persevering through years of losing with the hopes of developing a contender through draft and player progression. In the NFL, we observed the Rams’ pursuit of Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib all through free agency, which ultimately yielded a successful regular season, falling only 60 minutes short of a Lombardi Trophy. In the NBA, the Golden State Warriors have turned the league upside down with their additions of Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, both coming after the team had already achieved a 73-9 regular season with a NBA title the previous year. The Warriors are currently the runaway favorites to accomplish a three-peat this June.
When the Los Angeles Lakers acquired LeBron James, it was no secret that Magic Johnson was not close to being finished; certainly he would make whatever moves necessary to position additional superstars alongside the NBA’s premier free agency acquisition. Additionally, many could read the tea leaves that said when Anthony Davis signed with LeBron’s agent Rich Paul, a move for Davis to L.A. was certainly in the works. Following Davis’ recent trade request, this perceived collusion certainly infuriated the many around the league, with the Pelicans immediately issuing a statement “[requesting] the League to strictly enforce the tampering rules associated with this transaction.” Consequently, it has been widely reported that Pelicans G.M./president Dell Demps faces outside pressure not to yield to the Lakers’ trade requests, as it would in a sense condone the questionable behavior and series of events conducted by Rich Paul and the Lakers.
In the days following the Davis trade request, multiple offers from the Lakers to the Pelicans have been reported, all revolving around the Lakers’ young core of Kuzma, Ball, Ingram, Hart and Zubac. The Lakers’ final offer was reported to include all these players, along with the expiring contract of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with two future first-round picks. After not receiving feedback from Demps and the Pelicans, it was reported on Feb. 5 that the Lakers would retreat and withdraw from the Davis sweepstakes, at least before this season’s Feb. 7, 3 p.m. trade deadline. That same night, the Lakers suffered a 42-point loss to the Pacers, LeBron’s worst loss in his entire career. Many on social media observed a notable lack of effort from those mentioned in trade talks, and even a divide on the bench between LeBron and his teammates.
The question going forward: Can the Lakers recover from this failed attempt at Davis? Sure, they will have another chance in the sweepstakes this summer. However, one of the wrenches thrown into the Lakers’ effort thus far was LaVar Ball re-emerging to announce, “We’re not going to New Orleans,” thereby minimizing the value of Lonzo Ball to New Orleans, a key piece in the potential trade. Will LaVar Ball continue to flex his muscles on the league, manipulating the movement and coverage of his son? Furthermore, after being dangled around profusely over social media and in several news outlets, will the Lakers’ young core lose its vigor and commitment to this season and beyond? It is a poorly kept secret that LeBron James is presumably consulted, if not even more involved in potential trade discussions. How will the likes of Ball, Ingram and the rest view their leader after being nearly thrown away at the expense of acquiring Davis? It has been widely reported that the Lakers will have two spots to acquire superstars at a max-level contract this summer, but will the purple and gold sustain the lure it has held in the past? LeBron’s first season in L.A. has already been a firestorm of controversy, with many expecting head coach Luke Walton to be gone after this season.
If I were Davis, I would think long and hard before plunging on a move to the LeBron-led Lakers. Kevin Love and Chris Bosh, both big men comparable to Davis, went from being All-NBA, perennial stars in the league to playing third-fiddle as spot-up, pick-and-pop shooters once they joined LeBron. LeBron’s skillset is centered upon hard drives to the lane, where he either attempts to finish with contact or exercise his incredible court vision to find his shooters on the perimeter. Theoretically, Davis would likely reside in that lane, and holds a career mark of 31 percent from the 3-point line, certainly not something to salivate over. While Davis’ talent is unquestionable, the Lakers and Davis should consider fit, rather than simply attempting to stockpile talent. The Warriors’ success has been largely predicated on the ability of their superstars to facilitate one another, with each cornerstone player being able to shoot from the perimeter very efficiently.
Furthermore, LeBron’s long-lauded “immortality” and ability to remain healthy finally stuttered this year, as he missed 18 games largely due to a groin injury, all before the All-Star break. As the old adage goes, “Father Time is undefeated,” and James already ranks 17th all-time in total minutes played, with his physical style of play certainly accelerating the wear and tear he has endured. Will LeBron’s increasing age and presumed decline discourage marquee free agents this summer from undertaking the unimaginable burden of the LeBron James and Los Angeles spotlight? Despite his many accomplishments and undeniable dominance, controversy and turmoil have consistently followed LeBron through each pitstop in his career. And while it is often unavoidable and/or intentional, the unprecedented aura surrounding LeBron James may in fact hurt the Lakers, preventing them from achieving their overarching goal of bringing a title back to Tinseltown, and instead setting them back for the foreseeable future.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.