Anthony Davis won his first championship Monday night, displaying all the emotions that come with such an achievement as he watched the final seconds tick off the clock.
He played the best basketball of his career en route to this title, showcasing exceptional skill on both ends of the court while meshing nicely with teammate LeBron James.
Thought to be the best duo in the NBA when Davis was traded to the Lakers last year, the two played better together than most expected and brought Los Angeles another title as a result.
Davis’ future, however, will be a talking point in the weeks to come as he’ll surely opt-out of his $28.7 million player option for next season and look to sign somewhere long-term. Staying in L.A. is the easy choice, but Davis’ post-game quotes were predictably vague about his future.
“This just puts a bigger target on [our] back, honestly. Guys want to take out the champion,” Davis said after the game. “The next 4-5 years, [I] have to get better and better. I have to keep improving my game and, hopefully, I can have this feeling again.”
“I had a great time in L.A. this first year … This has been nothing but joy, nothing but amazement. Over the next couple of months, we’ll figure it out. I mean, I’m not 100% sure. But that’s why my agent is who he is and we’ll discuss it and figure it out.”
Since he’s seemingly leaving the door open to change teams, here are the three best and most realistic destinations for Davis to land for the foreseeable future.
3. New York Knicks
It’s tough to determine what the NBA’s salary cap will look like next season after losing so much money from the lack of fans, but assuming contracts aren’t affected too much, the Knicks are one of the few teams in the league with the cap flexibility to bring in a max-player or two.
Davis, for as great as he was this season, will ultimately be remembered as the Lakers’ second-best player behind James. That’s all well and good, and Davis may not care about who gets the individual awards or credit, but he could greatly elevate his legacy by turning a big-market franchise like the Knicks into a title-contender.
Especially if the Knicks can trade for another star — one younger than the 35-year-old James — Davis could heavily consider singing elsewhere for a more prolonged title-window. The Eastern Conference is also the much weaker conference of the two, which would make Davis’ title hopes that much more realistic.
2. Chicago Bulls
Similarly to the Knicks, heading East to lead a major franchise like the Bulls could potentially vault Davis much higher in the all-time rankings. With pieces like Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls aren’t in a terrible spot moving forward and could even trade one or two of those pieces for another proven star to pair with Davis.
Newly hired head coach Billy Donovan is also a well-respected coach who’s looking to change the culture of the Bulls, so Davis could partner with Donovan to help turn the franchise around. It appears that Davis likes Lakers head coach Frank Vogel, but player-coach relationships can sour quickly in today’s NBA, so who knows what the future holds.
Davis is also a native of Chicago and bringing his hometown city a championship is likely something he’s always dreamed of achieving. Doing so would make him a legend forever in the league and possibly the best player in the world. He may not have the desire to do so with a good thing going in L.A., but he also may feel he knows what it takes to win now and wants to be the No.1 option on his own team.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The clearest path to another championship for Davis is staying with the Lakers. Although he’s still under James’ shadow, James can’t maintain his current level of play forever and will eventually be unable to carry a franchise, although it’s become impossible to predict when that will happen.
Davis may want to be patient and wait for James to pass the torch to him, like when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did so to Magic Johnson in 1986, and that’d probably be the surest path for Davis to keep expanding his legacy and win more championships. L.A. also won’t be as hurt financially as some other small-market teams, so it’ll have no issues paying Davis top-dollar.
The Lakers are also the clear favorites to land free-agent role players in the coming years, which only increases the team’s chances of returning to the mountain top. Playing alongside James and Davis was both successful and fun, so there’s little reason to believe veterans wouldn’t want to join the organization’s winning ways.
Staying in L.A. could be a poor decision if James declines and the team never wins another title, but the risk-reward ratio is the best of Davis’ three most realistic free-agent destinations.