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The Anthony Davis Trade and the Lakers’ Favored Status

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It’s fashionable to hate on L.A., especially for smaller-market teams. How much is justified?

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Davis will play for the Los Angeles Lakers next season, suiting up with LeBron James and a nearly-max-contract player to be named later to form the next super-team in the NBA’s Western Conference. This could be a daunting proposition for the Portland Trail Blazers, who made the Conference Finals this season before falling to the incumbent super-team, the Golden State Warriors. The Blazer’s Edge Mailbag lit up with questions and implications almost as soon as the deal was announced. Today we’ll address a couple of them.

Dear Dave,

What do you make of the AD deal? The Lakers got their guy but the price was alot, it seems to me. Do you think we had a chance ever even with CJ?

Ryan

I understand the power of Anthony Davis. He’s not only one of the best players in the league, he’s a tight candidate for the SINGLE player you’d choose to build your team around. Almost every player ahead of him in that category is older. Giannis Antetokounmpo might be the only younger guy who could give Davis a serious run for his money. The Lakers did incredibly well. If he’s healthy over the next couple years, they’re golden.

The price L.A. played was astonishingly high. They’ll give up three picks, one of which is guaranteed to be premium (2019 NBA Draft) and one of which has a legitimate chance to be (2024). They also gave the Pelicans the right to swap picks in 2023 and 2025. Plus the pick in the middle (2021, could end up 2022) could come during the infamous “double stack” draft where changes in the age eligibility will stuff two draft classes into one, incredibly deep talent pool.

If anything remotely bad happens to Davis and the Lakers, New Orleans is going to be STACKED for the foreseeable future. Portland’s 2000’s-era potential with Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, and LaMarcus Aldridge was well-chronicled. The Philadelphia 76’ers are currently enjoying the fruits of The Process. The 2028 Pelicans might make them all look like rank amateurs. Even if they don’t, what a bounty of picks available for potential future trades!

The Blazers had nothing to offer of equivalent value. They weren’t even close. They could not have thrown in all those picks, knowing Davis was likely to depart after a single season. CJ McCollum is an afterthought compared to a potential five first-rounders. If L.A. was willing to offer that much, Portland was out. It was a longshot anyway, so no big deal (literally and figuratively).

Dave,

So the Lakers got their guy and will probably get another. How can I not be frustrated that the rich kids get all the new toys? I know we dont know how it will turn out, bit it feels like they cut in line in front of us (and after tanking a bit to get there). Were going to have to hear about them every night. I love our team but kinda bummed.

DJ

Don’t be that bummed. If the Blazers are really that good, this should be more competition for them. If not, it doesn’t matter anyway.

We should really talk about that “rich kids” perception, though. How’d the Lakers get that designation?

One possibility is cap management. They have the money to spend on all these contracts. Every team operates under the same set of rules. If their franchise worked the cap to create this kind of opportunity and others didn’t, that ends up being tough bananas for the other franchises. There’s no basis for complaining about L.A.

Having reached the third round of the playoffs, Portland might finally be in position to attract the free agents they’ve said they couldn’t get in prior years. They’re probably not head and shoulders above rivals, but at least the forehead is showing...maybe enough to make Jimmy Butler take a second look. Unless something changes, though, it’s a moot point. They can’t afford to sign anybody. That’s not on the Lakers, the Hawks, or anybody else but themselves.

More likely, you’re referring to the Lakers being one of the marquee franchises in the NBA. Profile, location, and ancillary endorsement/entertainment opportunities give them an edge over a franchise like Portland. But even that needs examining.

The Clippers play in the same town. Give or take the potential for Kawhi Leonard, they don’t have the same success drawing free agents as their more famous cousins. The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets play in the nation’s biggest city. They get more notice than small-town teams, but they’re not signing premium free agents every year either.

All of these teams have advantages, but the thing that sets the Lakers apart is their track record of, and unvarying commitment to, winning. They’ve been down the last few years, but they won big in every decade prior. They’re the archetype of the franchise that will give up anything to get the chance to play for a ring, and who will accept nothing short.

The Anthony Davis deal may end up looking foolish, but at least the Lakers had the guts to make it. Fielding one of the best players to ever put on the uniform in LeBron James wasn’t enough. 16 championships in franchise history aren’t enough. They want the next one more than they want to remember all the past ones. Whether you’re looking from afar or you’re the new Golden Player getting their attention, that carries weight.

Another franchise combining title history with a “nothing less than the best will do” attitude is the Boston Celtics. Somehow they always seem to end up with better-than-expected players as well. The Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat take a similar approach without the historical championship legacy. Miami has been aided by tax considerations, Dallas by a deep-pocketed owner.

Whether a team like the Blazers can achieve that kind of status is debatable. The San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, and all the above-mentioned teams have a head start. Portland won’t be able to establish a pedigree like theirs this decade. But if you want to become the franchise others complain about instead of the franchise doing the complaining, the first step is simple and obvious: you have to win.

I cannot tell you how much I, personally, loathed the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant version of the Lakers. Magic Johnson heaving the ball in the air to close the Western Conference Finals in the 1991 NBA Playoffs is pretty much the worst image burned into my basketball memory. At the same time, you know what? The Lakers don’t get all this attention because they ordered it off of Amazon Prime. They earned it through those years and many more.

I hope the Trail Blazers kick the purple and yellow shorts right off of LeBron and AD for the next few seasons. That’s not just because hating L.A. is fashionable; it’s the only real solution to your frustration, and the only one in Portland’s control. If they manage that, whatever the Lakers do won’t matter as much. If they don’t, it ends up sour grapes anyway.

Thanks for the questions! Keep them coming to blazersub@gmail.com!

If you want to check out some of the other stuff I do besides talking about the Blazers, head to GeekandGreek.com!

—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge / blazersub@gmail.com