Even after their loss in Milwaukee on Thursday night, the nation still saw why the Lakers (24-5) are a juggernaut that will be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time. It’s not just LeBron James playing at an MVP level or Lawrence Frank getting the team to play defense at a top 3 Defensive Rating, but also the breathtaking combination of skill, size and athleticism that Anthony Davis brings to the team.
LeBron may be the catalyst, but AD is the game-changer. They are the favorite right now to win an NBA championship. But that run could end quickly if Davis opts to leave after one year.
The 27-year-old remains non-committal about the Lakers beyond this season, which makes you wonder why when you consider he’s playing with one of the best talents in the history of the game in LeBron, playing in the second-biggest market in the league — and best weather — in LA and playing for a max contract that would pay $200 million.
Why wouldn’t he just say it now? Why would he want to go anywhere else?
“I still look at it as we’ll see what happens at the end of the season,” Davis said as a guest on ESPN’s First Take this week. “Obviously things are going great so far and I’m trying to stay in the moment and worry about that when the season’s over.”
This can’t be a leverage play. The Lakers clearly would want to offer AD the max and keep him paired with LeBron, 35, who is making sure his fellow star is getting as much shine as possible. Davis is averaging 27.7 points and getting plenty of shots (19.5 per game), even with LeBron’s MVP line of 25.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.
The talk before Davis was traded to the Lakers was that he wanted a big market after toiling in New Orleans for the first six seasons of his career. But does he want to share that market? Davis right now is the third-most popular player in LA, after LeBron and Kawhi Leonard (Clippers). He’s easily the fourth most popular player in the state when you add Steph Curry (Warriors) to the conversation.
And in the West? He drops even further, behind James Harden and possibly even Russell Westbrook.
Would Davis prefer a move to the East, which has far less superstar power behind Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Kyrie Irving (Nets) and Joel Embiid (76ers). Next season that changes when Kevin Durant (Nets) returns to action, but even still, AD would have a much bigger presence in the East with his own team.
Davis has some national partnerships with Red Bull and Foot Locker, but he still doesn’t have a signature shoe. He has a deal with Nike, but that’s about it. You’d think in LA he’d get his own sneaker, but so far he doesn’t.
Would that change in the East, especially if he went back to his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls, or perhaps to the Knicks in New York?
The better question is, would that be better than being part of a championship run with the Lakers, even if it’s in a second-fiddle role? AD has to ask himself if he not just enjoys living in LA, but enjoys playing in the shadow of LeBron…and Kawhi.
“When that time comes, I’ll think about it and see what’s going on,” he said. “But right now I’m trying to focus on this year and winning a championship with the Lakers.”
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, there is a silly debate emerging about the success of Spencer Dinwiddie in the absence of Kyrie Irving and whether or not he will be able to coexist once the all-star point guard returns from his shoulder injury.
In the 17 games that Kyrie has missed, Dinwiddie has gone from a nice bench player to an all-star caliber scorer. He’s averaging 25.3 points and 7.2 assists since Kyrie’s injury and just dropped 41 points in a loss at San Antonio.
So, sure, rather than marvel at the fortune that the Nets developed a player — remember, the Nets found Dinwiddie out of the G-League — into a talent that helped you survive an injury to a major player, let’s find a reason why it will be a problem.
“A good problem,” is how Nets coach Kenny Atkinson described it.
The notion that the Nets may consider trading Dinwiddie for hefty value is ridiculous. Let’s begin with the fact that he has a very affordable contract of three years and $34.2 million, with a player option after next season. Let’s also point out that Dinwiddie is a big reason why Kyrie is in Brooklyn to begin with and they’re close, so the thought that there would be friction between them on the court is far-fetched.
If anything, they could form a dynamic backcourt scoring duo that would be very tough to guard similar to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. OK, so neither of the Nets guards shoots the three as well as the Splash Brothers, but there are other ways to exploit defenses that struggle against the pick-and-roll.
Bottom line is it’s up to them to be willing to make it work and up to Atkinson to come up with a way to make it work.
Then figure out how to add Durant’s imposing presence to the mix by next year.
That sounds like a good problem, too.
We have more news involving NBA draft prospects and this one will only add to the cry for the NBA to get out of the one-and-done business model with the NCAA.
This week Memphis freshman James Wiseman announced he was done playing college basketball after just three games. The 7-1 center was serving a 12-game suspension after the NCAA deemed money Memphis coach Penny Hardaway sent to Wiseman’s mother — well before he committed to the school and even before Hardaway was named coach — was an “improper benefit.”
Hardaway had donated $1 million to his alma mater, which made him, according to NCAA rules, a booster. So his assistance to Wiseman’s mother was flagged. Hardaway and Wiseman tried to fight the decision by the NCAA but eventually lost. Wiseman was scheduled to return to action on Jan. 12, but abruptly changed the plan and left school.
Wiseman is expected to be a top 5 pick and could go as high as No. 1 in the 2020 NBA Draft. His departure from school, with a plan to sign with an agent and begin preparing for the draft, means three of the projected top 5 picks in the draft aren’t playing college ball. The other two are LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton, who both opted to in the NBL in Australia over college.
In the previous column, we told you about North Carolina’s Cole Anthony, also a projected top 5 pick who underwent knee surgery and isn’t expected back until February. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he, too, opted to not return to play college and just focus on the draft.
So that could mean four of the top five picks taken in the draft will have little to no college playing experience.
As the NBA continues to grow the G-League, and teams continue to utilize it as a legitimate development league, will we again see a time in the next few years where the top scholastic players completely bypass the college game for the pros? The league, which raised the draft eligible age to 19 in 2005, is expected to have a vote in May to lower the draft age to 18. If it passes, it still may not be until 2022 before it is instituted.