Should the Lakers Consider Trading AD?

This season has been nothing short of a disaster for the Lakers. The Russell Westbrook trade clearly has not worked out (I was wrong about that), AD is injury-plagued once again and has only played 37 games this year after playing 36 games in 2021. He may still come back before the end of the regular season, but with 7 games remaining, it seems difficult to imagine him playing at least 41 games this year which would constitute half the season.

Even LeBron has been less than 100% this year, playing only 55 games to date. LeBron and AD have only played 21 total games together this season, barely a quarter of the total season.

The fact that AD has been injured for the majority of the past two seasons has spurred louder and louder discussion among the sports media over the idea of the Lakers moving off of AD, who signed a 5-year max contract with them following the 2020 Championship season.

Now, it’s important to point out that the Lakers themselves have not said anything about trading AD, nor has LeBron been dropping any sort of cryptic messages about a rift between himself and AD. We’re not hearing rumors about it, and that’s the important thing here. The AD trade talk is purely media speculation at the end of the day.

The problem, though, is very real: LeBron is 37 and not getting any younger (although he’s having an incredible season statistically, on track to win the scoring title and shooting the ball at his most efficient clip since the 2014 season). The Lakers cannot waste the rest of LeBron’s prime waiting for Anthony Davis to get healthy, because he may never be fully healthy again.

And that’s what people are basically saying here: Anthony Davis’ best days are behind him, and he’s completely falling apart. Even if he does come back healthy, he’ll never be the same player again due to all the injuries racking up.

It’s very possible, although I would say AD has not suffered any significant injuries (ACL, Achilles) like, for example, Derrick Rose did. Significant injuries derailed Rose’s career. With AD, it’s a lot of minor/moderate stuff, like hamstrings and ankles and sprains and soreness and bruises, stuff of that nature.

Sure, it’s possible for those injuries to wear a guy down over time, but let’s not act like AD has suffered a number of career-altering injuries and there are serious doubts about his ability to ever be great again.

I don’t see any reason why AD can’t come back healthy and be the AD we saw dominating in the 2020 playoffs. I really don’t. Again, he has not suffered any sort of catastrophic injury.

And that’s why I would personally lean against trading him. I wouldn’t do it. If you look at Anthony Davis’ trade value as a stock that goes up and down, everyone is very bearish on him right now. His stock was at an all-time high after the 2020 Finals when he performed at an outstanding level, now it’s down massively–over 50% I’d say.

I’m going to be the contrarian and buy the proverbial dip on AD here. I’m going to say he won’t have another season of injuries and disappointment in 2023.

Because the ultimate question is this: would a potential Anthony Davis trade make the Lakers more likely to win the NBA Championship next season? I just don’t see how it would.

Yes, I grant that any healthy player would be more helpful to the Lakers than AD in street clothes, but we’re talking about potential here–max potential, ceiling, best-case scenario.

There is no player that the Lakers could obtain for AD that would make them better. AD is a top-15 player in general, top-10 when healthy, and when he’s both healthy and playing his hardest (i.e., in the 2020 playoffs) he’s probably a top 5-7 player in the league.)

The only players in the league that would constitute an upgrade over AD for the Lakers would be guys the Lakers could never even hope to trade him for: guys like Giannis, Embiid, Jokic, etc.

The Lakers could, I guess, try to trade AD for a guy like Dame, but for one thing, Dame hasn’t expressed a desire to leave Portland yet, and second, I don’t know if Dame would make the Lakers more likely to win a Championship. Dame is a smaller wing player; AD is a dominant big man who can protect the rim. Have you seen how horrible the Lakers’ defense is this year without him patrolling the paint? It’s God-awful.

And, on top of all that, it’s highly unlikely the Blazers would even do that trade. They’re trying to rebuild, and sure, I guess they could try to rebuild around AD, but I think the idea of making AD the centerpiece of a team and building around him for the future to make a run at a championship–that’s a ship that has just about sailed. He’s 28 years old now, which isn’t old, but no team would want to go through what the Pelicans went through at the end with him where he forced his way out. Plus, the Pelicans didn’t really win many games with AD as their centerpiece, and I think there’s probably a lot of justifiable doubt around the league about whether you can truly contend for a Championship with AD as your #1 guy. He’s not Giannis or Embiid or Jokic, big guys who can carry teams as the #1.

Nevertheless, let’s look at some hypothetical AD trade scenarios that are floating out there on the internet and evaluate them based on the question of, “Would this trade make the Lakers more likely to win the 2023 NBA Championship?”

The Big Lead proposed three trades, although they don’t really get specific on details:

  • The Knicks: It would basically be AD for a lottery pick in this year’s draft, Julius Randle and maybe some other pieces to put around LeBron. This is a no from me. This does not help the Lakers.
  • The Heat: Jimmy Butler and a shooter, perhaps Duncan Robinson, for AD. For one thing, I don’t think the Heat would want this trade considering they already have Bam, but I also don’t think this makes the Lakers more of a title contender than they would be with AD.
  • The Celtics: Again, no specifics offered here, but it would not include either Tatum or Brown. They’re basically theorizing Marcus Smart, Robert Williams “and other pieces.” To me, that’s a no-go for the Lakers. They would never do that.

I really don’t see how any of these trades make the Lakers more likely to win a Championship next season. I just don’t.

And so, I would personally ride with AD despite the injuries.

I give AD a pass for 2021 with his injuries. The Lakers had a 72-day layoff between the Finals and the start of the season, and AD himself has even said it was impossible to both recover and prepare for the new season during that short time span. Even LeBron was hurt for most of 2021–LeBron played 45 games in 2021, AD played 36. Not a huge difference there.

And LeBron has even been hurt a bit this year, too. Not as much as AD has, but it’s not as big a gap as you’d think: AD has played 37 games this year, LeBron has played 55. Would you guess that AD has only played 18 fewer games than LeBron has this year? Most people would probably guess higher.

Has Anthony Davis been disappointing with both his diminished play and litany of injuries over the past two seasons? Yes, without a doubt.

But the fact still remains that if and when he’s healthy, he makes the Lakers an elite NBA title contender. And I think the Lakers would be foolish to throw that all away.

A healthy AD means the Lakers are title contenders, and I think they have no choice but to stick with him going forward and just pray that he can get back to health and stay healthy.

This is LeBron’s curse. He can never truly find his Scottie Pippen. He can never find that reliable running mate that will be there no matter what, for the long haul.

He went to Miami in 2010, got three great years out of D-Wade, won Championships in two of them, but by 2014, D-Wade was a diminished player.

LeBron goes back to Cleveland, gets Kyrie as his #2, and they have tons of success, although not as much as they perhaps could’ve. Kyrie’s devastating knee injury in Game 1 of the 2015 Finals cost the Cavs a title that year. They won it in 2016, obviously, but then when KD went to the Warriors, it essentially shut the entire league down and nobody could even come close to the Warriors. Then Kyrie sort of went off the deep end and forced his way out of Cleveland; Kyrie wanted the spotlight to himself and wanted to get out from under LeBron’s shadow.

So then in 2018, LeBron goes to LA and after a year, executes a trade to get Anthony Davis. It worked out spectacularly in their first year together–despite the Pandemic and the Bubble, they won a Championship and basically steamrolled through the playoffs, with no team really even coming close to them the whole way. And that was supposed to be the start of a new Lakers dynasty. LeBron and AD were the best duo in the entire NBA, and the expectation was that they’d surely be able to win at least another ring, possibly even two more, before LeBron rode off into the sunset.

It was all set up perfectly for LeBron and the Lakers following the Bubble Finals in 2020.

But then injuries ruined it all. Even despite the injuries in 2021, the Lakers rallied to squeak into the playoffs, and eventually got up to a 2-1 lead on the eventual Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns. Then AD got hurt.

If AD hadn’t gotten hurt in the playoffs last year, I think the Lakers go on to win that series over Phoenix and they may have even won the whole thing to secure a repeat NBA Championship. I think LeBron and AD would have been too much for Giannis in the Finals. I really do believe that. Giannis is a force of nature, I love him, and I think he’s an unbelievably special basketball player, but I don’t think the Bucks would have been able to deal with both LeBron and AD in the Finals. The series would have gone 6 or even 7 games, but I think the Lakers would’ve prevailed.

LeBron has been searching for that Scottie Pippen running mate his entire career, and it has just never worked out for long enough.

This is LeBron’s curse. He’s just never been able to find that reliable running mate that he can count on for an extended period of time. Wade was the closest he ever got, but even that only lasted 3 seasons.

AD was supposed to finally be the guy, but he just can’t stay healthy.

Despite that, though, I think the Lakers’ best bet here is to ride with him, at least for another season. He is still their best bet. They bet on him staying healthy, and if he can, they can win a Championship–assuming they get the Russell Westbrook situation figured out and retool the rest of the roster to include more 3&D guys and shooters.

There is no better alternative right now. There is nobody the Lakers could realistically trade AD for that would improve their odds of winning a Championship next season.

The Lakers are in win now mode. Young pieces and draft picks do not help them. They have to win as much as they can while LeBron is still great.

AD, unreliable as he is, is still their best chance of doing that. They simply have to hope that he can stay healthy enough to make another run at a Championship.

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