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Anthony Davis turns the Lakers back into the NBA’s premier free agent destination

There was no certainty the Lakers would land a star free agent. Trading for Davis absolutely changes that.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers pulled off the deal everyone saw coming. They sent Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks — including the No. 4-overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft — to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Anthony Davis. Los Angeles also has enough cap space to offer a max contract to one of the premier free agents in this summer’s loaded open market, and they’re reportedly already shifting focus to signing Kemba Walker to complete their Big 3.

This is a turn of events of epic proportions for the Lakers. They’ve gone from laughingstock to arguably the favorites to win the title next year.

Before this trade, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Lakers weren’t the frontrunners “or even really a major consideration among any of the elite free agents.” Things, as you can imagine, are just a little bit different now.

Los Angeles has been disarray all season — and really the last several seasons. Their 2018-19 campaign went up in flames after LeBron James suffered a groin injury, followed by Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka failing to publicly deal three-quarters of the team to New Orleans for Davis at the trade deadline. Tensions bubbled, teammates were frustrated, and James missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

It got worse: to end the season, Johnson abruptly stepped down without informing team owner Jeanie Buss or any of the players. He then went on ESPN First Take and told the world his frightful experience running Lakers basketball operations. It was horrendous from an optics perspective. The dumpster fire outsiders saw was a dumpster fire Johnson lived.

There was also the growing trend of many of the top free agents not want to play with James in Los Angeles.

Kyrie Irving requested a trade from Cleveland for that very reason. Kawhi Leonard reportedly didn’t want to play with James on the Lakers and preferred the Clippers as a free agent destination this summer. The same can be said of Jimmy Butler, who requested a trade mid-season and listed the Clippers, not the Lakers, as a preferred destination. Kevin Durant has been tied to the New York market all year. Walker has maintained he wants to stay in Charlotte, who can give him $221 million.

Had this fate panned out, and all the cream of the crop of available talent gone elsewhere, the Lakers would have been looking at Year 2 of LeBron James in Los Angeles without a real shot of title contention. That won’t be true with Anthony Davis as a running mate, and now the Lakers are significantly more attractive for those other max free agents.

That’s because Davis will assuredly sign a five-year max contract extension next summer worth almost $200 million, and James has two more years on his current contract. The Lakers will have about $32.5 million in cap space this year, just enough to sign a free agent whose max contract begins at $32.7 million next season. This summer’s free agency pool took a hit with season-ending injuries to both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, but Leonard, Irving, Walker, Butler, Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton, DeMarcus Cousins, and D’Angelo Russell (OK, maybe not him) will each be on the market.

Walker has already been connected to the Lakers, and Irving, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, has already had discussions with people about playing for the Lakers. Leonard is also from Los Angeles. Him joining the Lakers would break basketball and form the best Big 3 in the history of the game. Whichever star joins the Lakers is signing up for a future built around Anthony Davis, and a present alongside Davis and James in a role similar to the one Irving played in Cleveland. This was the only way the Lakers were going to become a superteam this summer.

After signing their max player, the Lakers can then use their room mid-level exception of $4.5 million, along with minimum contracts, to round out the roster. It’s how they’ll build a championship contender, forming a team that could be the favorite to win it all next season.

Los Angeles needed Davis to lure a marquee free agent. Now, they have him, and as an added bonus, they have the attention of the best free agents on market.