LeBron James is the best player of his era in the NBA, but let’s face the facts- he’s 35 this season, and time’s-a-tickin. He missed a huge chunk of the 2018-2019 season, and as a result he missed the playoffs for the first time since his rookie year. His contract with the Lakers, now approaching a year old, has just three seasons left to deliver a championship. He’s not going to get younger or healthier going forward, so the time is now.
The Lakers decision to gut out most of their younger assets and three first round picks, plus pick swaps to get Anthony Davis was absolutely the right move. Without a second star in place to make the Lakers a sure-fire playoff team, what even decent free agent was going to come there? The team looked like a mess. They now have a top three big man to team with one of the all-time greats, in a conference with no clear favorite moving forward. If the Lakers wanted a shot at first or second tier free agents, and contention, the deal was worth every piece, including the #4 pick.
With that said, the typical overhyped “Lake Show” BS is following AD. I heard once analyst refer to Davis as “the best player LeBron has ever played with,” arguable statement against Kyrie, and an idiotic statement when comparing AD with Wade. ESPN had analysts saying the Lakers have “two top six players,” as though you couldn’t name Durant, Kawhi, Giannis, Harden, Curry, and LeBron as all better than Davis before even getting an argument. Vegas lines suddenly made this undermanned Lakers team the favorite to win the championship next year. Still others declared Davis the “best big man in basketball,” as though Joel Embiid hasn’t consistently stolen his lunch money in head-to-head’s the last two seasons. Again, Anthony Davis is great, and worth it, but don’t talk crazy.
Then there’s the talk about what’s next for the Lakers. Getting Davis gives the Lakers a basketball case to be made to the biggest free agents on the market, sure. Financially though, things are going to be hard. Depending on the date of the Davis trade officially getting done, the Lakers will not have enough cap space available to sign a third star to a max contract. After this trade, they will have about $27 million available, and Davis will be owed a $4 million trade bonus, leaving them with $23 million and change left over. The Lakers have just five players on their roster, and just one guard. They could move a couple more players to ultimately help complete the financial side of the trade, but would still have less than $30 million of cap space, and need ten to twelve more players. They wouldn’t have the full $32.7 million max deal to offer Kawhi or Jimmy Butler, and their current teams can offer them around $38 million for each of five years. In other words, the Lakers are more likely to spread their cap space out to fill out a deeper roster, unless they can convince a Kemba or Kyrie to take dramatically less than market value.
The Lakers made the right basketball move in cashing in their assets for a star right now. This move put them back in contention, and made them look relevant again. With all of that said, this trade did not make them next year’s favorite. It didn’t position them to bully the market this year. Though worth it, they paid a premium price for this player. And with all of that, time is ticking away on LeBron tying Shaq with that fourth ring. The odds are still more likely the Lakers don’t win the next championship, and time doesn’t slow down for LeBron in the future. The Lakers shot their shot, and shot it well, but don’t think for a second they’re the front-runners now.