By GREG BEACHAM
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Anthony Davis’ year of uncertainty finally felt finished when he stood in the Los Angeles Lakers’ training complex and proudly held up his new gold jersey while LeBron James looked on approvingly.
After months of upheaval around his departure from New Orleans, the superstar forward is looking forward to years of success and stability on the West Coast.
Sure, Davis knows the Lakers are rarely stable, and championships are the only success this franchise understands.
The six-time All-Star can’t wait for the challenge of winning big in the Hollywood spotlight.
“The most difficult part for me was just not knowing,” Davis said Saturday. “When it was announced that I was being traded, I don’t want to say it was a relief, (but) it was something that I’d thought about for a long time. Obviously it was tough to leave the city I’d been playing in for seven years, but I think it was best for me.
“When I found out I’d been traded to the Lakers, I realized it was an unbelievable opportunity for me,” he added. “To be here with a wonderful organization, and then to be able to play alongside LeBron and the players that we have now … to get the opportunity to do that and come here and play for an organization that’s all about winning, and winning championships, and that’s the only goal, I think that was the biggest thing for me.”
The Lakers formally acquired Davis this month in one of the biggest moves of the NBA’s tumultuous offseason, but this courtship has been happening for much longer. Davis became determined to leave New Orleans last season, and Los Angeles made an in-season run at Davis before eagerly blowing up its young core to get a second game-changing star to play alongside James.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka introduced Davis as “the most dominant young basketball player in the world.”
“There is no more complete basketball player in the game,” Pelinka added. “There is nothing he can’t do. He can shoot. He can make plays. He can defend 1 to 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 going to be on our team and he’s going to be a pillar in this franchise for many years is just something we’re incredibly proud of.”
The Lakers gave up Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and a slew of draft picks to land Davis one year before he could become an unrestricted free agent. While Pelinka clearly expects Davis to sign a long-term deal to stay with the Lakers, Davis didn’t make a declaration of his intentions right away.
“Right now, my focus is on this year, and trying to help this organization become a championship team,” Davis said.
Davis’ new jersey will bear a No. 3 after his plan to take his usual No. 23 from James fell through thanks to rules involving jersey supplier Nike, who had already begun planning for next season with James in the No. 23 shirt. Davis will go back to the number he wore in elementary and middle school, although he jokingly said the denial of No. 23 “was pretty hurtful.”
Davis and James have been kept up to speed on Pelinka’s machinations to build a strong roster around them. Davis strongly endorsed the signing of DeMarcus Cousins, his former teammate in New Orleans — and not just because Davis prefers to play as a power forward instead of a center.
“I like playing the 4,” Davis said to a laughing coach Frank Vogel. “I’m not even going to sugarcoat it. I don’t like playing the 5, but if it comes down to it, Coach, I’ll play the 5.”
Pelinka said the Lakers signed Cousins and re-signed JaVale McGee precisely so that Davis wouldn’t wear down his body guarding centers.
Davis was asked about load management, and he dismissed it: “I’m playing. I’m 26 years old. I love the game of basketball. I’m ready to play.”
Davis also waived a $4 million trade kicker in his contract so the Lakers would have cap room to take their failed run at Kawhi Leonard, a move that Pelinka praised as selfless.
“Anytime you’re able to acquire a player like Kawhi, I think you have to do almost everything to get a guy like that,” Davis said. “It didn’t work out for us, but I wanted to make sure I did whatever I could to help the team.”
Basketball-loving Los Angeles is still buzzing after its two teams were turned into immediate contenders during free agency, but they’re hardly alone in a league that might have achieved a measure of parity after years of Golden State dominance.
While Leonard and Paul George landed with the Clippers, Davis and James are confident about the future ahead for the 16-time NBA champions, who are exponentially more beloved in their hometown than their local rivals. Davis has lived in Los Angeles during the offseason for several years, and he loves everything about it but the traffic.
“It’s going to be fun,” Davis said of the new-look league with its new crop of superstar pairings. “I’m excited about it. I think the league has grown. I think it’s better. (With) all the players teaming up and spreading that talent throughout the league, it’s going to be a fun season. I like our roster. I like every player that we have, from one through 14.”
The Lakers have been the worst team in the NBA during their team-record six consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, but Davis and James expect to end those struggles and drought in the year ahead.
They’re aiming for much more, too.
“I know we’ll talk about it and do whatever we can to definitely make this team a championship team next season,” Davis said, before correcting himself: “This season.”