- Both the New Orleans Pelicans and the Los Angeles Lakers have had ugly losses following the Anthony Davis trade saga.
- The Pelicans are playing Davis despite being incentivized not to, and it has created an awkward tension, as he has been less effective while the team has lost two of three games.
- The Lakers have lost three of four games in ugly ways, and it appears the team has been shaken by being involved in trade rumors.
One week after the Anthony Davis trade saga that rocked the NBA, things aren’t looking up for the New Orleans Pelicans or the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Pelicans are in an awkward spot. They’ve decided to play Davis in the remaining portion of the schedule, with ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reporting that the NBA threatened to fine the Pelicans $100,000 for every game a healthy Davis missed. The NBA pushed back on that report, but the Pelicans announced they would play Davis to stay in line with the NBA’s rules about the integrity of the game.
It’s created an uncomfortable situation. Neither Davis nor the Pelicans want Davis to get injured, fearing it could affect his trade value. The Pelicans are incentivized to sit Davis to improve their standing in the NBA’s draft lottery. And there’s the simple fact that Davis made it known he no longer wants to be on the team.
Of course, on Tuesday, Davis’ presence didn’t help the Pelicans. He scored just three points on 1-of-9 shooting, as the Pelicans got walloped by the Orlando Magic, 118-88.
“We sucked,” Davis said after the game. “Nobody was interested in playing, is what it looked like.”
The Pelicans have said they will reduce Davis’ minutes over the remainder of the season. But his numbers in his three games since returning to the team might raise some eyebrows – 16 points per game on 10 shots per game, 50% shooting, and 10 rebounds per game. Most players would love to post those numbers, but when Davis, a player who averages 25 and 12 in his sleep, is posting relatively pedestrian numbers, it’s worth asking how beneficial the arrangement is to everyone.
Have the Lakers recovered from the saga?
Before the deadline, much was made about the Indiana Pacers beating the Lakers by 42 points, the worst loss of LeBron James’ career. Many suspected the distraction of the trade talks and the rumors that included nearly every young Lakers player were harming the team.
After the deadline passed with the Lakers intact, they had a feel-good, buzzer-beating win over the Boston Celtics that some thought would mark a turning point in their season.
But since then, the Lakers have dropped two straight: a 23-point loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, and a four-point loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks. James posted a 28-point triple-double in the second game, but despite his playing 43 minutes, the Lakers couldn’t pull out a win.
After the game, James said he hoped the upcoming All-Star break would offer a chance for the team to “decompress.”
The Lakers are now 28-29, below .500 for the first time since November 7. They’re 7-12 in 2019 and sit 2.5 games out of the playoffs.
The Lakers are not out of the race, and a motivated James in the second half of the season could be the driving force they need to make a playoff push.
But it won’t be easy. Fourteen of the Lakers’ remaining 25 games come against playoff teams, including some of the best in the league – two against the Milwaukee Bucks, one against the Toronto Raptors, one against the Celtics, one against the Golden State Warriors, one against the Denver Nuggets, one against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The eighth-seed Sacramento Kings are on pace for 44 wins. If it takes 45 wins to make the playoffs, the Lakers will have to go 17-8 the rest of the year.
Furthermore, how the team rebounds from the distractions will be worth monitoring. Even after the deadline, talk of the trade sweepstakes has continued, namely from the Lakers’ president, Magic Johnson.
Johnson has said that the Lakers’ young players are all professionals and that the team doesn’t need to coddle them over trade talks. He also said the Pelicans didn’t negotiate in good faith and brought up an incident in which Ben Simmons asked to work out with him, sparking another NBA investigation into tampering. (The league found no wrongdoing.)
Also hovering over this is the safety of head coach Luke Walton’s job. Several reports have indicated that the top of the organization doesn’t support Walton, and losses like Tuesday’s only make his seat hotter. If the Lakers don’t make a run after the All-Star break, how much longer will Walton be around?
There were no winners in the Davis trade sweepstakes
Aside from the Celtics, who can now bid on Davis in the offseason, nobody won the Davis sweepstakes.
Not Davis or his agency, who tried to push their way out of New Orleans a year and a half before his contract is up. Not the Pelicans, who now have the lingering awkwardness of playing Davis and trying to keep their future intact. Not the Lakers, who couldn’t significantly upgrade the roster around James.
Now both teams are headed in different directions, with potentially equally unsavory endings. The Pelicans still must find a trade for Davis, one that will check as many boxes as possible – draft picks, young players, All-NBA talent.
The Lakers, meanwhile, must battle uphill to make the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference. James hasn’t missed the playoffs since his rookie year, in 2003-04. To acquire the best player in the league in the offseason then fall short of the postseason would most likely mean change is coming.