EL SEGUNDO — As one of the summer’s biggest deals was going down last month, Anthony Davis was watching a movie while sprawled on the bed of a ritzy Malibu hotel.
He had stowed his phone out of sight – he doesn’t usually like mid-film distractions. Then he realized his agent, Rich Paul, had tried to call him twice.
“When I called him back, it went straight to voicemail,” Davis said. “And me being a 26-year-old, I went straight to Instagram to start looking, and that’s when I saw it.”
Davis learned he was going to be a Laker from social media – he was then a wide-eyed observer in his own unfolding story.
The intention of the 6-foot-11, six-time All-Star is to take a more active role in structuring his career and legacy. He asked for a trade in January because he felt somewhat sidelined, desiring control over his destiny in an NBA era in which stars have wielded their leverage like a cudgel. No one has helped set that dynamic quite like LeBron James, the 34-year-old, four-time MVP whom Davis has idolized and grown close to, and now will be his teammate.
On Saturday, as he was officially introduced by the Lakers, Davis said he sees his new career chapter as a chance to redefine the player he is and do something he’s never done: Win a ring.
“The opportunity to do that, and come here and play for an organization that’s all about winning – forget winning, winning championships – and that’s the only goal,” he said. “I think that was the biggest thing for me.”
Davis joined Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and Coach Frank Vogel in front of a horde of media, lounging easily in a director’s chair with a Lakers backdrop. At one point, he went to conference with James, who stood in the back of the team’s practice gym wearing a gold hooded sweatshirt, gleefully taking in the proceedings.
After the interviews were over, Davis beamed as he raised a golden jersey – bearing his new No. 3 – to his shoulders.
It marked the start of one of the biggest swings the franchise has taken to get back to championship contention after six consecutive years out of the playoffs, and at this stage, the feelings are still bright. Davis, in particular, possessed a certain loose, easy charm, seemingly liberated after six months of uncertainty since burning his bridges in New Orleans.
Davis has been seen in restaurants, back hallways and on the court having discrete conversations with James over the past few months, fueling speculation they would one day be on the same team. Davis said more was made of those meet-ups than the actual substance, but still, he’s pleased to join forces with James.
“I never really had a chance to experience playing alongside him,” he said. “The 2012 Olympics, I didn’t play much. I was like the towel guy, just waving towels. We had a little bit of time during the All-Star games, but to get a full season and to see the things he’s able to do – pass, shoot, talks well defensively, he’s a great leader. So I’m excited to get a lot of that this season.”
Getting Davis was a long process for the Lakers, one that stalled in February and helped sink the locker rooms of both teams involved. Back then, Magic Johnson and Dell Demps handled negotiations for the Lakers and Pelicans, respectively. By April, both men had left their teams.
Pelinka gave credit to his staff with the Lakers, but also the New Orleans front office led by David Griffin (and owner Gail Benson) for re-engaging on trade discussions after they broke down before the deadline last season.
The Lakers gave up “extraordinary value,” Pelinka acknowledged, using Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and a host of draft considerations to get Davis. But they believe he’s worth it.
“There’s no more complete basketball player in the game,” Pelinka said. “There is nothing he can’t do. He can shoot. He can make plays. He can defend 1-5. He can protect the rim. He can handle the ball. His dedication to his craft is unparalleled. To sit here next to him and think he’s gonna be on our team and that he’s going to be a pillar of this franchise for many years is just something we’re incredibly proud of.”
That “many years” comment is suggestive: Technically, Davis will become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and while he has given every indication he is happy to be with the Lakers, the team still has to make sure he stays. Pelinka has explicitly stated the Lakers are building for the future with Davis in mind.
At one point this summer, the Lakers hoped to be introducing two stars at once. When Davis waived his $4 million trade kicker in June, it helped the Lakers get to the $32 million in cap space they needed to have a shot at adding Kawhi Leonard on a max salary. Davis acknowledged chasing Leonard was a big reason he decided to sacrifice the kicker, but even though the Lakers didn’t get their third star, he was happy with how that money got spent.
“That four million was to add more money to a player’s contract that they wanted, or get another guy, then by all means, I was willing to do that,” he said. “And I think we did a great job of using that throughout the entire team.”
Some of the moves were clearly made with Davis’ positional preference in mind. He prefers playing power forward – “I’m not even going to sugarcoat it,” he said at one point – and asked the Lakers to bring in centers who could “bang inside.” That was Pelinka’s motivation to sign DeMarcus Cousins, a former teammate of Davis with whom he wanted to pair again, as well as retaining JaVale McGee.
The only thing Davis seemed upset about during the process was his number. Originally, James had intended to give Davis No. 23, which both men have worn during their careers. But an obscure NBA guideline that requires players staying on their team to decide to change jerseys by March meant James couldn’t foresake his old number, which meant Davis had to pick a new one. He went with three, which he said he wore during his high school days.
Maybe it’s another sign of a fresh start, that Davis can put the drama of the past few months behind him and start moving from spectator to star in his own story.
“As long as I can sleep at night and live with the decision that I made, I’m happy and I don’t really care what no one else thinks,” he said. “I have great people around me that I can talk to about things that’s going on and they can give me great advice. And at the end of the day, I’ll live with the decisions I make.”