LOS ANGELES--You can close your eyes and let your imagination run wild, LeBron James dribbling the ball at Staples Center, pushing toward the basket. The defenders collapse around maybe the strongest ball handler the game has seen. And instead of forcing a shot, he just lobs the ball near the rim for a long-armed, spring-legged, one-eyebrowed star for an easy two points.
Anthony Davis will become a Los Angeles Laker, validating the Las Vegas bookmakers that had the team as the favorite to win the 2020 NBA championship in the afterglow of the Toronto Raptors' dethroning of the Golden State Warriors this past week. But Davis isn't reason alone to think the Lakers can get to the top of a reshuffled Western Conference.
Getting Davis is a huge move for the Lakers as they try to become credible contenders after missing the playoffs in James' first season with the team. It's not the only move -- it's the first.
By getting Davis, the Lakers did the only thing they could this summer to put them in the conversation for a meaningful free agency signing -- the kind of addition that could matter in late May and early June next year, and not just the kind that would help them be a tougher out early in the playoffs.
Imagine it again, James pushing the ball in the paint, the defense putting all its focus on him and the target closest to the basket, Davis. Now imagine a third option, another All-Star player, at the three-point line, ready and waiting to receive the ball before knocking down a shot.
It's a real possibility. That, as much as the Davis acquisition, is why it's reasonable to think the Lakers can win their 17th NBA title, which would be their first in a decade.
Getting Davis gives you a chance, but that was the easiest part of the equation. Filling in around him? That'll be the difference between another banner or not.
The addition of a third "max" star relies on whether the Lakers created enough salary-cap space to sign one. That depends on when the trade with Davis is actually consummated and not just agreed upon.
Kyrie Irving probably should be the Lakers' top choice. He reportedly wanted to pair with Davis -- a desire that fueled hope in Boston, New York and Brooklyn. He's already succeeded alongside James in Cleveland and is a prolific shooter -- he made more than 45% of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers.
Irving, though, already split with James once, and as he likely leaves Boston, he'll take with him plenty of blame for the dysfunction inside the Celtics' locker room.