While the benefits will be tremendous for the winner of his services, one team stands to lose more than others if they don’t land Davis – the Los Angeles Lakers.
Not landing Davis would be a failure for Lakers
The day the news broke of Davis’ demand, fans and pundits alike started speculating what the Lakers would offer to pry him away from New Orleans.
LeBron James has openly courted Davis this season, having dinner with his fellow All-Star whose agent Rich Paul also represents and is close friends with James.
Reports have pointed to Davis initially having only eyes for the Lakers, threatening to make a trade to any other team a one-year stop before he becomes a free agent. Davis has reportedly opened up the market to a long-term deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers since.
Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson said last year that if he doesn’t land two whales over the course of two summers, he would step down from his job.
Johnson speared his first whale shortly after making that statement in landing LeBron James.
Trade deadline is critical for Lakers
It has become abundantly clear that Davis is the prime target as superstar No. 2. The problem for Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka is that the Lakers don’t hold all the cards. Davis will go this week or this summer where the Pelicans decide that he goes. Outside of making the best pitch they can, there’s nothing the Lakers can do.
Most signs point to the Pelicans having little regard for Davis’ desire to end up in Los Angeles and the Lakers’ will to get him there.
Pelicans concerned about their own timeline
The Pelicans rightfully aren’t concerned about the Lakers’ timeline to land Davis before Thursday’s trade deadline.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Monday that Johnson is talking with the Pelicans, but facing an uphill battle with a New Orleans front office that believes it’s in its best interest to wait until after Thursday’s deadline to deal Davis.
Celtics waiting in the wings
The primary reason for that is the Lakers’ long-standing rival Boston Celtics. Per NBA contract rules, the Celtics can’t have both Davis and Kyrie Irving on their roster on their current deals. But when Irving’s contract expires at the end of the season, Boston is expected to dive head-first into the Davis bidding if a deal is still there to be done.
According to Wojnarowski, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge is pressuring the Pelicans to wait.
And wait they probably will. Because why would they accept a mediocre Lakers offer now when the market will be more competitive this summer?
The Lakers are reportedly upping their offer from the initial non-starter that reportedly included just one first-round draft pick. They can’t afford to slow play this one. Now is the time to overwhelm the Pelicans with an offer they can’t refuse.
What does it mean if Lakers lose out on Davis?
If they lose out on Davis this summer to the Celtics or worse – one of Davis’ other preferred destinations – it could spell big problems for Johnson and Pelinka.
Johnson was brought back into the Lakers’ fold for one reason only: to deliver a contender. Step one of that process was landing James. But without pairing him with another superstar, the signing would have been for naught, and the tail end of James’ prime would go to relative waste on a non-contender.
It’s the reason Johnson offered up his resignation if he doesn’t get the job done. He’s arguably the most iconic Laker to ever wear purple and gold and doesn’t want to put team owner Jeanie Buss in a position where there’s pressure to fire him.
Missing out on Davis wouldn’t spell defeat. But it would amplify the pressure this summer to sign one of the multiple premium free agents to hit the market including Irving, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson.
Johnson won’t be the initial fall guy in the event of a failure to properly build around James. Those honors would likely belong to Pelinka.
But Johnson should do everything in his power to get Davis in a Lakers uniform prior to Thursday afternoon. Anything short of that could lead to some very tough decisions for the Lakers and one of their legends down the road.
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