NEW YORK — Days before Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans are set to visit the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time this season on Friday, LeBron James openly pondered what having Davis as a permanent resident alongside him in purple and gold at Staples Center would be like.
“That would be amazing,” James told ESPN on Tuesday before the Lakers’ game against the Brooklyn Nets. “That would be amazing, like, duh. That would be incredible.”
Davis, 25, is averaging 28 points, 12.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.8 blocks and 1.7 steals per game for a Pelicans team that is under .500, at 15-16, putting them 12th in the Western Conference standing with more than a third of the season in the books.
Davis is under contract with New Orleans for $27.1 million next season and has a player option for 2020-21 worth $28.8 million, meaning the Lakers would have to trade for the five-time All-Star should they want to acquire him before he becomes a free agent.
Adding intrigue to the situation is the fact that Davis and the Wasserman agency parted ways over the summer, opening the door for him to sign with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports in September to represent him. Paul, of course, is also James’ agent.
James had Davis on his mind after seeing ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski laying out the Lakers’ trade priorities in a segment that aired on Tuesday’s SportsCenter.
“They’re not going to give away picks and their top young players in some deal that makes them incrementally better this season because they’ve got to save all those assets for Anthony Davis, a big trade this summer pre- or post-free agency,” Wojnarowski said. “That’s why they’ve looked at players who are on one-year deals who don’t have money going forward.”
L.A. made several inquiries to the Phoenix Suns in hopes of acquiring veteran forward Trevor Ariza, but the Suns opted to deal Ariza to Washington after the Wizards included a young asset in Kelly Oubre Jr., while the Lakers kept their young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart off limits in discussing a potential deal.
Just because the Lakers would put some combination of those young players on the table for Davis doesn’t mean New Orleans would be willing to swing a trade.
“If you can trade him for anybody, then he is the most valuable guy in the league. Not that we would ever consider that,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said in October. “There’s no one in the league that we would trade him for, and there’s no one out of the league — not even Beyonce. If we wouldn’t trade him for her, he’s probably untouchable.”
Not to mention, Davis has financial incentive to stay with the Pelicans
He is eligible for a supermax extension this summer worth $239 million over five years, should he choose to stay with New Orleans. Should he be traded and ride out the rest of his guaranteed deal, his new team — such as the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who also are lurking in the Davis sweepstakes with trade assets galore — could sign him to a five-year, $205 million extension in the summer of 2020. Or if he simply waits out his final year with the Pelicans and tests unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2020, the most he could sign for with a new team with cap space would be for four years, $152 million.
After the Lakers failed to pair James with a superstar in the summer of 2018 despite opening up salary cap space to do so, landing a big fish like Davis would give the team a realistic championship path, even as James, who turns 34 later this month, continues to age.
Swinging big has been the Lakers’ M.O. since general manager Rob Pelinka and team president Magic Johnson were put into power in 2017. While it led to James’ arrival, it also has gotten the team in trouble. Twice in the past two years the Lakers have been fined for tampering — to the tune of $500,000 after a league investigation produced evidence of improper contact between Pelinka and Paul George‘s agent; and $50,000 because of comments Johnson made about Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Players, however, cannot be penalized for talking about another player under contract — or talking to another player under contract — in hopes of playing together some day. James and Davis already has teamed up at Staples Center in the All-Star Game in February, with James, the captain of the East squad, drafting the big man to his team.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks contributed to this report.