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Lakers, LeBron James, Anthony Davis

Does an Anthony Davis-less Lakers squad ever get LeBron James his 4th championship?

Even with the presence of LeBron James in Tinseltown, it’s safe to say that the addition of Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers cemented the team’s status as a perennial championship contender. After seven seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans, Davis requested a trade in the middle of the 2018-19 NBA season. The trade, unfortunately, did not go through until July, when Davis was swapped for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round picks. This made it possible for LeBron James to play alongside another star to win a championship. It’s debatable whether James would have captured his fourth championship with his original group of Lakers teammates.

The 2017-18 season was nearly a masterpiece for James with the Cleveland Cavaliers. James and the Cavs were coming off of a third finals appearance against the Golden State Warriors, where they were defeated in five games. After the departure of his then co-star, Kyrie Irving, rumors swirled that James wouldn’t lead Cleveland to their fourth consecutive Finals appearance. The Eastern conference continued to get tougher and James’ Cavs were struggling for most of the season.

As the playoffs arrived, James turned into a monster and put up ridiculous stat lines. He averaged 34 points per game and had two game-winning shots through the postseason. Unfortunately, James’ heroics weren’t enough as the Cavaliers were swept in the NBA Finals to their arch-nemesis, the Golden State Warriors.

James would later sign with the Lakers on a four-year, $153-million deal. James’ signing with Los Angeles automatically put the franchise in a position to contend for a championship. But the question was whether the younger players were the best fit alongside James? The season prior, the Lakers finished the season with a 35-47 record, which was their best in four seasons.

The 2018-19 season consisted of key contributors in James, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and others. Despite the team’s early struggles through the first part of the season, the team found their groove midway through the campaign. Heading into their Christmas matchup with the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers were clicking as the fourth seed in the West. As things looked bright on one end, it began to look gloomy as James went down with a hamstring injury. With James’ departure from the team, it allowed for the young core to figure out how to continue the team’s winning culture. Eventually, the team would continue to fall in the West standings, being placed in a position to fight for a playoff spot.

Kuzma and Ingram continued to show improvements as the Lakers’ two top scorers. But poor communication on the floor alongside injuries continued to hunt the Lakers for the rest of the season. Even James’ return to the lineup couldn’t make a difference. The Lakers would miss the playoffs in 2019, adding another disappointing season to their record book.

As it turned out, the Davis trade benefited the Lakers — and the players who got moved out of LA for him. Last season, Brandon Ingram won the Most Improved Player award by averaging 23.8 points per game. He even became an all-star for the first time in his career. Ball, on the other hand, is still trying to find his niche in the NBA. But since his trade to New Orleans, he has fixed his broken jump shot and has shot the ball at a better rate in the past two seasons. Even Josh Hart has shown his emergence having 11 games with 10+ rebounds.

Kuzma was the player who got left in Los Angeles following Davis’s arrival in Hollywood. Maybe the Anthony Davis trade has affected Kuzma’s game to a degree. Kuzma can be very inconsistent, having matchups where he can become a liability. Although Kuzma has played well as of late for Los Angeles, he will have to keep the momentum rolling as James and Davis return from injuries.

As the years have passed, the Davis trade has benefitted both New Orleans and Los Angeles tremendously. The Lakers won a championship last season while the Pelicans continue to build for the future. If the trade never occurred, it may be difficult but possible for James to capture his fourth ring with the young stars. James has shown on numerous occasions that he can work with any player as long as they can play their roles. With a healthy young core in Ingram, Ball, Kuzma, and Hart, a fourth championship could have been possible for James to achieve with this roster.