The Anthony Davis trade to Los Angeles was dead. Other things happened around and before the NBA trade deadline this afternoon, some more surprising than others, but it was clear that the big deal that might have happened was not going to happen. The death certificate was signaled by a tweet from Marc Stein, a tweet from Woj, a comment from Davis’s agent Rich Paul. The passing of the 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline, when it happened, felt academic.
At this time last week, the Lakers likely expected that they’d be preparing for Davis’s introductory press conference right about now. They were his preferred destination, the Pelicans seemed like sufficiently motivated sellers, and...they wound up getting Mike Muscala from the Clippers in exchange for Michael Beasley and Ivica Zubac. They have been reported as the front-runners in the extremely slow and sad race to sign the husk of Carmelo Anthony.
While other teams around the league got considerably better, particularly in the Eastern Conference, the Lakers—a franchise that used to be known for its ability to nab superstars away from smaller markets—fell so below their expectations that even Wizards fans might be justified in letting out a snicker.
This wasn’t the first failure of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka’s tenure with the team, and almost certainly won’t be the last. But given that the media storm surrounding Davis’s future was a big story even before he announced any desire to be traded, it’s definitely the most notable failure so far. This also wasn’t a run-of-the-mill failure in which the franchise’s hubris got in the way of acquiring a legitimate superstar, although that certainly played a part in it. It wound up being much more embarrassing than that, thanks largely to some deception form the Pelicans. The Lakers were tagged out at third with a hidden-ball trick, and by a team whose owners are so much more interested in their football team that they staff executive and medical positions on the Pelicans with football guys.
Davis may yet get his wish and wind up with the Lakers at some point in the future. But for now, the team is one superstar behind LeBron James’s championship schedule and facing at least a few months of bad vibes and dicey basketball prospects. Johnson and Pelinka have to face the press and sell their new additions as something more impressive than it is, LaVar Ball is once again awake and on television shitting on his son’s teammates and bosses. The young guys who were repeatedly included in trade rumors—literally every young player in the team’s rotation—will return to the team locker room either defiant or insulted or both. This was what Lonzo Ball posted on his Instagram story shortly after the trade deadline passed.
But the Lakers were a mess and were probably always going to be a mess. The Pelicans, though: that is a team in an interesting situation. The team’s decision to sell what it could at the deadline suggests that it isn’t planning to chase an already-slim postseason chance. Davis will likely sit out for the remainder of the season, and the Pelicans will wait for the NBA Draft order to be finalized and for trade offers to start pouring in. Teams will likely be offering a lot for Davis, but if GM Dell Demps really did screw the Lakers out of spite, interested franchises might not feel compelled to offer anything close to what the Lakers did. If Boston’s Danny Ainge really wanted to, he could offer a package well above what any other team can bring to the table in terms of talent and picks. He could do this and still top out at an offer that’s nowhere near the asset stash the Pelicans had in mind. What then?
The Pelicans might have pantsed the Lakers in this non-deal. But if the worst-case scenario does happen and Davis just walks away for nothing in 18 months, the Pelicans won’t have won anything. Los Angeles will still have LeBron James and the space to sign some other stars to align around him. The Pelicans will have...well, what, exactly, beyond the satisfaction of not having given the Lakers what they wanted?