Last summer, the San Antonio Spurs thought the Los Angeles Lakers were exactly where they wanted them. L. A. had the privilege of signing LeBron James as a free agent on July 1st. But everyone thought that James would not come alone to the Lakers and spend the last years of his childhood keeping their young roster.
The Spurs thought it was a moment of maximum power to swap Kawhi Leonard, and they wanted everything the Lakers could offer. Not two young players and draft picks from the Lakers. All.
The Lakers have spent five years building their team through the lottery and feel delighted with the way they have reorganized their lineup. They had kept their young players when Paul George was traded. When Jimmy Butler was traded. When DeMarcus Cousins was traded. Were they really going to separate from everyone now? Could they sign James without that second star up?
The Lakers have stood firm. James arrived anyway, relying on the fact that the Lakers make him co-starred in an exchange or via a free agency in the summer of 2019. Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors and won an NBA title .
The commercial demands of the pelicans in exchange for Anthony Davis were almost identical to those of the Spurs for Leonard. Their pressure points, their influence and even the young players involved were almost the same.
The pelicans have agreed to send star player Anthony Davis six times to Los Angeles, where he will team up with LeBron James, sources told Adrian Wojnarowski (ESPN). Full story
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But the Lakers were in a very different place this time. The NBA is in a very different place this time. Because two of the best free agents about to hit the market – Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant – have just suffered catastrophic injuries that will keep them from returning all or most of next season. A third, Leonard, just won his second most valuable player in the finals, and the Lakers' chances of meeting him even on July 1 seemed to fade. And a fourth, Kyrie Irving, has just fired his agent and is increasingly tied to the Brooklyn Nets.
Almost all of this summer's vaunted free agent category is coming out of the Lakers Council. All this made Davis the best player the Lakers had the chance to win this summer.
The Lakers could no longer leave things loose. Not with James who has reached the age of 30 and the pressure on dominant owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka who are reaching a feverish stage after the embarrassing resignation and media tour of the former president from the Magic Johnson team.
Of course, Pelinka could have reduced the tension at his press conference on repechage night by making fun of him for the false Heath Ledger story revealed last month by ESPN's Baxter Holmes.
But the only way for Pelinka to really free himself from the pressure on him and the franchise is to acquire a superstar at any cost. The Lakers simply could not afford to miss this trade and free agency.
That's exactly what the pelicans were betting on. And exactly why this trade could not take place until everyone has put their ego and hurt their feelings starting in February.
From now on, qualifying these February negotiations as "negotiations" is a bit exaggerated. Pelicans had never really considered dealing with the Lakers. They did not like being forced into this position by Davis and his representative, Rich Paul. And they probably were not going to let former executive director Dell Demps make that decision anyway.
So the Lakers – really just Johnson, because Demps would not talk to Pelinka – would call and Demps would write names on the board without giving them back. These names would flee publicly and damage the chemistry of the Lakers team. But eventually, Johnson and the Lakers understood and stopped bumping into what had become an incredibly self-destructive wall.
All the people involved in these fruitless commercial discussions were hurt.
The pelicans season has exploded. The Lakers imploded. Demps was fired. Johnson left, then threw everyone under the bus. The Lakers coach, Luke Walton, is gone. James, Paul, Pelinka and Buss have endured months of criticism. Davis was booed by local supporters, removed promotional material and criticized for some suspicious fashion choices.
It was a bad deal for both sides. And when everyone took to the air and examined the damage, both parties realized that it remained a sacred deal to conclude if they could recover from themselves.
A source close to the negotiations said: "The biggest difference this time was David Griffin [the new Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations]. He was not involved before. He could negotiate frankly and fairly. "
For the Lakers, it is a gigantic bet, Davis being named independent player next summer. He is a better player – and probably healthier – than Dwight Howard was in 2012, when the Lakers took a similar chance and were massively burned for it. Again, that's what the Lakers do. Chasing superstars is part of their DNA. Add to that the pressure exerted by maximizing this three-year window with a James still in his early youth and this has been an automatic reflex for them. Plus, the Lakers still have up to $ 32.5 million in capped space this summer. Adding Davis is probably the best possible argument for free agents.
For pelicans, it could be a herschel Walker's hersch-type for a player that they would lose in a year. They have essentially selected three of the top five lottery lotteries, two of which have already suffered from growth problems in the NBA. Just the idea that Lonzo Ball throws lobs on the likely No. 1 pick, Zion Williamson, is enough to bring fans back to the Smoothie King Center. Ball and Jrue Holiday may be the best defensive backyard in the NBA.
Pelicans could be the only team to trade a superstar of his age without having to rebuild. And this before we know if the pelicans will keep choice number 4 or return it for an established veteran.
Whatever the case may be, the Lakers have yielded many assets to buy Davis, which they will lament for years, like after the dealings with Howard and Steve Nash, or celebrate their iron stomachs if Davis and James associate to restore the market. franchise to glory.
It's a gesture that defines Griffin's legacy. He's mutually separated from the Cleveland Cavaliers after the 2017 season to be able to handle a franchise as he heard, without interference in the property. Griffin was so determined to do things as he pleased this time, he passed on an opportunity and a huge pay to lead the New York Knicks two years ago, because he was not assured to fully control basketball operations.
Instead, Griffin spent his free time in Sonoma, California, with his wife. They did a lot of wine tasting and enjoyed the world-class culinary scene of the area. He hosted a sports talk show on SiriusXM.
The good opportunity would come. The good terms. And if that was not the case, Griffin would only enjoy his life. When the owner of the Pelicans, Gayle Benson, called in the spring, Griffin got everything he wanted.
It is also the approach that he has adopted in the negotiations for this trade. the The Boston Celtics were also serious in their dealings with Davis. They were willing to discuss talented young players such as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, according to sources close to the negotiations. But the Celtics would never give up as much as the Lakers. And Boston did not have a high pick choice this year because she just did not have the same luck in the lottery as L.A. and New Orleans.
For example, in a back room at the Hilton Chicago in May, Pelicans and Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry were reunited for the NBA to set up the number combinations for the draw.
The winning combination is drawn first. Everyone knew right away that the Pelicans had obtained the rights to retrieve Williamson. But a few minutes later, the Lakers' number also appeared and they jumped to number 4.
Both franchises knew that their fortunes would be changed forever. On Saturday, these choices formed the basis on which this large-scale trade was built. For Pelicans and Lakers, it's a second chance to expose yourself to real risks – and to championship rewards.