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Let LeBron James and the Lakers tamper with Anthony Davis in peace

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It’s not harming anyone, and history says it probably won’t work, anyway.

One heretofore unremarked upon result from LeBron James signing with the L.A. Lakers this summer was that the NBA’s Tamperer-in-Chief joined forces with the most tamperiffic team in the league.

This is like a tampering Voltron. James is constantly chided for recruiting other stars to join him (often in vain), while the Lakers have been punished for tampering more than anyone else, culminating in a half-million fine over the Paul George saga.

That fine was completely absurd given that tampering in the NBA is rather useless. No one was harmed by the Lakers using back channels to communicate to George that L.A. would love to have him when he was free from contractual duties in a season. The Pacers actually benefited from PG-13 declaring he would not re-sign with Indiana — that freed the franchise to move on and trade him for All-NBA guard Victor Oladipo and top reserve Domantas Sabonis. If the Lakers helped convince George to leave Indiana, they did so at a time highly helpful to the Pacers.

And importantly, the Lakers didn’t even get George in the end!

So now we have LeBron using the media to tell Anthony Davis that he’d love to see him in Forum blue and gold. After a week-long media flirtation culminating in an ESPN game between the Lakers and Davis’ Pelicans (well that was convenient), the NBA decided to remind teams of tampering rules and make clear that it would pay attention to small acts of tampering that add up to a pattern of misbehavior.

In other words, this was a warning shot at the Lakers. While LeBron’s Captain Obvious comments about liking A.D. don’t warrant sanctions, they could be included in a broader tampering case against Los Angeles.

Of course, the NBA sent out this memo because some smaller-market teams complained to the league about LeBron having opinions. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that a few general managers called Pelicans GM Dell Demps to commiserate over the Lakers’ violation of New Orleans sovereignty.

Cry me a river.

Demps is one of the NBA’s longest-tenured GMs. His team has won a single playoff series in his eight years. This is his seventh season with Anthony Davis on the roster. Despite a mixed record of transactional success amid an appropriately persistent win-now mentality, Demps has yet to build a great team around one of the world’s greatest players.

Again, Demps has a mixed record — whether the Pelicans should cut him loose or keep him is beside the point. The issue is that he was lucky enough to earn the No. 1 pick in a year with a transformational superstar available, he took that star, and he is on the verge of losing him. He’s been luckier than most first-time NBA general managers. Spare your sorrows.

The NBA’s issue seems to be that Davis is under contract with New Orleans for another year and a half, but other teams smell the blood in the water right now. Why? This piece explains the situation, but here’s a Cliffnotes version.

The Pelicans will offer Davis a super-max extension this summer, a year before his current contract expires. This is more money than any other team can offer him — the super-max will only be available from New Orleans due to the highly specific rules the NBA put in place around it. (The super-max came into existence after Kevin Durant left the Thunder, due in part to a lack of real financial incentive to stay. The biggest beneficiaries of the rule have been James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and — yikes alert — John Wall.)

If Davis rejects the extension this summer, that will signal he’s prepared to leave next summer, which means the Pelicans would be foolish to refuse to trade him and risk losing a top-5 player for nothing in 2020.

This summer — June or July, whenever Davis clearly signals he’s not signing the extension, assuming he does not sign the extension — should be the critical point. The Lakers and Celtics and every other team with big Unibrow dreams will be on high alert at that point.

So why is L.A. poking the souffle now? Because the Lakers are advantaged if, for whatever reason, New Orleans decides to rip off the bandage now, trade Davis, and tank out for a high pick. The Celtics are the chief rival for Davis’ services, but they cannot making a deal during this season as long as Kyrie Irving is on the roster. (This piece explains why).

Once the season ends, Boston is on better footing than L.A. due to its deeper pool of assets. So it behooves the Lakers to speed up the break-up between Davis and the Pelicans, if possible. (There’s also the fact that the Lakers may believe they have a shot at winning the West and maybe a championship if they can trade for Davis this season, given the Warriors’ odd campaign.)

Now that we’ve established that the Lakers should have reason to tamper right now, let’s all let them tamper in peace.

Remember: it didn’t work on Paul George, and it cost the Buss family a cool $500,000. LeBron is the only star the Lakers have convinced to come aboard as a free agent since Metta World Peace in 2009 (if he even counts). L.A. isn’t some NBA juggernaut — the only teams with longer active playoff droughts are the Kings and Suns! This is just a hapless rebuilding team trying to find an edge.

Plus, doesn’t the NBA — with special emphasis on these sniveling rivals — owe L.A. a make-up call after the last big controversial trade involving the Lakers and New Orleans was vetoed? Let’s give the Lakers a free pass on tampering with Anthony Davis and just cite “basketball reasons.”