If you thought Rich Paul, the agent for NBA superstars Anthony Davis and LeBron James, was doing his best to pair his two highest-profile clients on the Los Angeles Lakers, reading the latest from Sports Illustrated’s S.L. Price will not dissuade you.
In the interview, which appears to have mostly taken place in March and was held for publication until now, the eve of what could be the NBA season’s final game, Paul did his best to take Davis off the trade table from the Boston Celtics and every other team not named the Lakers or New York Knicks. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported on Monday that Davis had narrowed his list of preferred landing spots to those two teams, but Paul paints a far clearer picture for Sports Illustrated.
“They can trade for him, but it’ll be for one year,” Paul told Price of the possibility that Davis could be traded anywhere. “I mean: If the Celtics traded for Anthony Davis, we would go there and we would abide by our contractual [obligations] and we would go into free agency in 2020. I’ve stated that to them. But in the event that he decides to walk away and you give away assets? Don’t blame Rich Paul.”
Well, then. If you weren’t swayed by Anthony Davis Sr.’s comments to ESPN about the Celtics soon after his son’s trade request back in January — “I would never want my son to play for Boston after what they done to Isaiah Thomas” — it is crystal clear now. The Celtics would be renting Davis for the final year of his deal.
If you are Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who has coveted Davis well before he hired Paul as his agent last summer, I don’t know how you could trade the assets it would take to land Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans — some combination of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and a lightly protected future first-round pick from the Memphis Grizzlies — after hearing that.
Yet, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Wednesday that the Celtics have joined the Lakers in separately engaging the Pelicans on trade discussions for the All-NBA big man, suggesting “Boston has been undeterred in pursuing Davis.”
Wild. The risk of waking up in 2020 to an empty treasure chest of assets is severe, even if you believe you could make a compelling pitch to Davis over the next year. The possibility exists that the Celtics are now merely driving up the price for Davis, but for now, at least, Ainge is sticking to his guns on Davis, for better or worse.
“Where he’s going to land? I have no idea,” Paul added in a wider-ranging profile that is well worth your time. “And it don’t matter. We’re going into free agency. Why does it matter to me where he goes? Earth: We’re going into free agency. He has a year, he has to play. But after that, I can’t say it no bigger: WE ARE GOING INTO FREE AGENCY. 2020: ANTHONY DAVIS WILL BE IN FREE AGENCY.”
This is all pretty straightforward. Davis owns a $28.75 million player option for the 2020-21 season that he will decline in order to secure whatever contract he wants. He is the most high-profile player to hit the market at age 26 since LeBron in 2010.
Except, it does seem to matter to Paul where Davis goes, and that is the Lakers. This was the assumption when Paul went public with Davis’ trade request two weeks prior to the February deadline, when the structure of Kyrie Irving’s contract prevented the Celtics from bidding against the Lakers for Davis during the season.
You no longer need to make that assumption.
“My thing is: Take LeBron off the Lakers,” Paul told Sports Illustrated. “Are the Lakers not a great destination for an arguably top-two player that went to Kentucky and won a national championship, signed with Nike? For a team that’s had centers from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaq?
“So now, when you add LeBron, that’s what? The cherry on top. LeBron’s 34 years old. Anthony Davis is 26. So when LeBron’s done playing, the Anthony Davis trade is still rolling. What better place to do it than L.A.? If it was L.A.— I never said ‘L.A.’ But there’s no negative to that. Who gives a s--- what you’re talking about, about me trying to help LeBron out? No, I’m not. I’m trying to help Anthony Davis. Now, if helping Anthony Davis helps LeBron in the long run? So be it. But my goal is Anthony Davis.”
Paul outlined some niceties about the Knicks — “They have cap space, flexibility, they’re able to absorb more than one star” — but it came full circle to the Lakers.
“See, everybody wants to fabricate the facts when it’s me,” Paul added. “That’s just like saying, ‘No, A-Rod, don’t marry J-Lo. Are you out of your f---in’ mind, man?’ This is Jennifer Lopez! I mean, who would you rather me marry? The Lakers are Jennifer Lopez. You don’t want me to date Jennifer Lopez? Give me a reason I shouldn’t date J-Lo!”
There are plenty of reasons not to marry the Lakers right now, all of which pose a counterpoint to Paul’s argument that he is doing what is best for Davis, not James. There were enough dumpster fires in the Lakers organization this season that we power ranked them, and that was before recently resigned president of basketball operations Magic Johnson poured gasoline on general manager Rob Pelinka and owner Jeanie Buss on national TV, and then ESPN’s Baxter Holmes lit it aflame with a long-form feature that outlined the organizational dysfunction in great detail.
An argument could be made that the Pelicans, with recently hired David Griffin now running their basketball operations and No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson coming their way, are a better long-term fit for a superstar entering his prime, especially if the Lakers must trade top young talent to get Davis. I’m not sure how the Lakers or Knicks — another wildly dysfunctional franchise — would be more attractive than the possibility of pairing Davis with Irving, Al Horford and healthy Gordon Hayward in Boston, unless the bright lights of L.A. and New York are part of the attraction.
There may be plenty of better basketball fits than the Lakers or Knicks, but that may not matter. It is apparent Davis wants to play in a major media market, and he has certainly earned that right. We do need to recognize that Davis is fully capable of making his own decisions. If he felt Paul were putting James’ priorities above his, he probably would not have changed agents. He is surely helping to steer this plan.
And, like Paul said, Davis will enter free agency in 2020, regardless of where he plays next season, and that includes the Knicks or Lakers. He could always change his mind about playing for them, too. Welcome to the NBA in the 21st century.
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