Oct 4, 2017; Ontario, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka watches the game against the Denver Nuggets with team president Magic Johnson at Citizens Business Bank Arena.

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Lakers need lesson in NBA economics after another lowball offer for Anthony Davis

The Pelicans continue to have leverage in trade discussions

Seth Dunlap
February 04, 2019 - 7:13 pm
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Word quickly spread on Monday about the Los Angeles Lakers making another overture to the New Orleans Pelicans for star forward Anthony Davis. 

After last week’s laughable opening offer from Los Angeles, one that was widely panned across the country as insultingly low, you’d think that Lakers president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka would have learned their lesson.  Apparently not.

The Lakers have reportedly increased their offer to include Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram, plus two first round draft picks.  As first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are also willing to take on the burdensome contract of Pelicans forward Solomon Hill while sending Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley to New Orleans.

On the surface that might seem to be a much better offer than their initial pitch of Ball, Kuzma, Rondo, Beasely and a first round pick.  Considering that opening offer was incredibly insulting to anybody who has watched more than 30 seconds of Anthony Davis on a basketball court, a “better” offer is relative.  There was nowhere to go but up.  

Sending Stephenson while taking on Hill’s contract is a negligible addition.  The trio of Stephenson, Beasley, and Rondo are making a combined $16.9 million this year compared to Hill’s $12.2 million.   Hill is under contract next season for $12.8 million, and the Pelicans would indeed get some salary relief then as the Lakers veteran trio have expiring contracts, but that shouldn’t move the needle in any meaningful way for the Pelicans.  They’re not going to be contenders next season without Anthony Davis, so freeing up that cap space isn’t critical when they’re likely to be a lottery team. 

The extra first round pick offered, likely the Lakers 2020 selection, also sounds like a much greater addition than it will probably turn out to be.  Los Angeles, with LeBron, Davis, and whatever free agents they entice this offseason (Kawhi Leonard?) will be expected to contend for a championship.  Therefore, that additional pick will likely be at the end of the first round, hardly a significant pot-sweetener for the Pelicans in this deal.

Including Ingram in the new offer is significant, but it’s the only high-value new asset offered by the Lakers in their latest proposal.  However, a significant improvement to the smoldering pile of rubbish that was their first offer only gets the Lakers to the point where they should have begun these negotiations, not ended them.  Maybe the Pelicans will actually respond to this offer.

That response should inevitably be a hard no.  Ball, Kuzma, and Ingram aren’t a sufficient return for Davis.  Those three are intriguing young players, but far from sure-fire future stars.  There’s no way the Pelicans could be confident in executing a rebuild around that trio, especially when Ball, through his dad, is indicating he doesn’t want to play in New Orleans.  Remember Eric Gordon anybody?

Speaking of Gordon, there’s another intriguing aspect to this whole soap opera.  Pelinka and the Pelicans front office already have an acrimonious relationship.  It was Pelinka, then an agent for Gordon, who trashed the Pelicans and the city of New Orleans while trying to help Gordon leave the team in 2012 during restricted free agency.  It’s a situation that few inside the Pelicans organization have forgotten.  Pelinka must believe he can outmaneuver, and embarrass, Dell Demps and Mikey Loomis a second time.

Through the last week of this process, one thing has become abundantly clear – the Lakers, Johnson, and Pelinka need a big lesson in NBA economics.  The asking price for Davis will almost assuredly be driven up this summer when the Boston Celtics enter the inevitable bidding war.  The New York Knicks are also reportedly interested in Davis, as could be the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucs, and others.   The Lakers are desperate to get a deal done before Thursday’s trade deadline to pre-empt that bidding war, but their two offers to the Pelicans suggest Los Angeles believes they have the leverage.  They don’t.  That lies with the Pelicans now.  It will lie with the Pelicans this summer.

If the Lakers want to trade for Davis now, they should be willing to outbid any potential offers that will come from other suitors across the league.  Right now, they’re acting like Joe Six Pack courting a Victoria’s Secret supermodel by offering to take her to Olive Garden for endless breadsticks, thinking that will be enough because she didn’t have any other dates planned that week.  That’s never going to work.  She knows she’s worth more than that, and that eventually those better offers are coming. 

The Pelicans should not, they cannot, accept any underwhelming or it-might-just-be-sufficient-enough offer from the Lakers.  The Celtics, Knicks, and a line of other teams are going to come calling in a few months. Why settle for Olive Garden breadsticks and pass up on a chance to eat caviar in the penthouse suite? 

Either the Lakers are naïve about the Pelicans economic leverage in this situation, or they’re truly shooting their best shots this past week.  In either case, the Pelicans should continue to swipe left and wait for the (much) better offers coming this summer.

You can listen to Seth Dunlap on "The Last Lap" every weeknight from 8-11 p.m. CT on WWL Radio!

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