LOS ANGELES — Throughout his four-year tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers, the organization remained uncertain surrounding two important things about Anthony Davis.
Could Davis stay consistently dominant? Could Davis stay consistently healthy?
Therefore, it might appear head-scratching the Lakers would grant Davis a three-year, $186 million extension on Friday to ensure that he remains under contract through 2028. When accounting for his two-year, $84 million contract, why would the Lakers commit $270 million toward a player that has only appeared in only 194 out of a possible 308 regular-season games?
Easy. This became the most pragmatic choice for the Lakers to make given varying circumstances.
The Lakers will never fully dismiss Davis’ injury history. That explains why they acquired Jaxson Hayes as a free agent and may pursue another big player for their 14th roster spot. But they also have optimism that Davis’ worst injuries are behind him. After missing 20 games from late December to late January last season with a stressed right foot, Davis sat for only three more games for precautionary reasons on back-to-backs. Otherwise, the 30-year-old Davis did not suffer any other serious ailments.
The Lakers will never fully hand the torch over to Davis with LeBron James still on the roster. But through both trial and error, the Lakers have determined that the best way to maximize James’ remaining championship window hinges on two things. Continue to pair James with Davis, whose on-court chemistry became an instant fit because of complementary personalities and skillsets. Build a roster filled with promising role players around James and Davis. Following a missed playoff appearance amid issues with Davis’ health, Russell Westbrook’s fit and a diminished supporting cast in the 2021-22 season, the Lakers advanced to the Western Conference Finals mostly because of Davis’ resurgence and the team’s superior depth following the trade deadline.
Since then, the Lakers concluded they should value maintaining continuity instead of chasing a third star. That concept mostly applied toward retaining their most valuable incumbent free agents at cap-friendly prices (Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell). That also applies to Davis, who has displayed his best basketball with the Lakers whenever he competes with a mostly healthy James and a strong supporting cast. After demonstrating that dominance during the Lakers’ 2020 championship run, Davis mostly displayed those same qualities as an effective rim protector and a versatile scorer in the Lakers’ latest playoff run.
“I couldn’t think any more highly of Anthony Davis as a Lakers and as a player,” Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ executive vice president of basketball operations and general managers, said last month at Las Vegas Summer League. “He’s helped deliver a championship to our franchise. He has been an incredible captain and leader. You saw last [season] how he was willing to play through a hard foot injury to get our team to the Western Conference Finals. We just love having him as part of our team.”
Technically, the Lakers and Davis didn’t need to agree to an extension to ensure that continuity.
Davis’ previous contract ran through the 2024-25 season. He could have decided to wait until next season before deciding whether to exercise his player option for the 2024-25 campaign or opt out in hopes for an even more lucrative deal. The Lakers could have bought themselves time to see if Davis could truly stay healthy and build off of his successful efforts in the 2022-23 campaign before further committing toward him. It turns out it would be a win-win for both parties to show further commitment.
Just as when he agreed to a five-year deal following the Lakers’ 2020 NBA title run, Davis saw the value with seeking additional security to protect himself from further injuries than by waiting until the best possible contract became available. Meanwhile, the Lakers maximize future flexibility for two possible scenarios.
If Davis successfully builds off of last season and helps the Lakers contend for a championship, they will have had made a wise investment with securing Davis on a relatively less expensive contract. If Davis underperforms or suffers a major injury, the Lakers could eventually deal with the difficult decision with breaking up the current roster and start rebuilding. It would be premature to start that process now with James still playing at a high level.
It appear unlikely the Lakers would land a better star or a handful of role players that would better help James’ efforts to win his fifth NBA title. It wouldn’t make any sense to start a rebuild with James still in uniform.
In fairness to Davis, he also proved worthy of the extension after becoming a primary reason for the Lakers’ recent resurgence. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising both parties doubled down on their belief that Davis can finally become the consistently dominant and healthy player the Lakers had always hoped he could be.