Why the Lakers’ no-risk signing of Christian Wood could free up Anthony Davis’ game
Dave McMenaminESPN staff writer5 minutes to read
Wood tweeted It was “always my dream” to play for the Lakers. It turns out that his dream coincides with the wishes of Los Angeles’ most important player: Anthony Davis.
Sources told ESPN that Davis made it clear to the organization that he wanted more support at the position so he wouldn’t have to play as many 5’s during the regular season.
Davis was in the center for 99% of his minutes last season, according to Cleaning the Glass data. While Davis’ performance at the quarterback earned him a three-year, $186 million contract extension this summer, the Lakers’ strategy with Rob Pelinka in charge of basketball operations has been to partner with their stars as stakeholders in the process.
Davis’ desire to spend more time at the power forward was heard. (In addition to Wood, Los Angeles also signed 7-foot-tall Jackson Hayes.)
Wood, 27, is the seventh new face of the team that finished last season with eight wins from the title and lost in the Western Conference Final to the eventual champion Denver Nuggets.
And while there is something to be said for a few of the departing players – the overall competitiveness of Dennis Schroeder, the timing of the playoffs for Lonnie Walker IV, the flexibility of Troy Brown Jr.’s role and the tenacity of Wayne Gabriel are all positives for last season’s team – Los Angeles. It seems to have improved while keeping its essence unchanged.
That was easier said than done: Pelinka and the Lakers had a semi-annual $4.5 million exception, a full mid-level exception worth $12.4 million and minimum veteran contracts to offer.
The Los Angeles summer, which culminated in Wood’s signature, offers a cohesive vision. The Lakers didn’t make the same mistake of making inappropriate wholesale changes, as they did in the 2020-2021 season. They did not prioritize name recognition and experience over youth and athleticism, as they did in the 2021-2022 season. They are still trying to activate the three-star system, as they did in 2022-2023.
They’ve kept continuity while adding players who theoretically fit the defense-minded expectations set by Darvin Hamm in his first year as manager. They’ve added players who have succeeded in situations with high basketball IQs in Miami (Gabe Vincent) and Minnesota (Torian Prince).
They took a chance on a few young players with an upside (Wood, Hayes and Cam Reddish). And they’ve addressed a glaring weakness in last season’s team by adding shooting everywhere they can find it: Vincent hit 43% on 3-pointers made during the Heat’s run through the playoffs, and Prince hit 38.1% from last season’s deep, rookie. Signature duo D’Moi Hodge shot 40% from 3 for Missouri last season.
Given the timing of Wood’s $5.7 million, two-year agreement — the deal includes a second-year player option — nearly two months after the team’s previous transactions when it signed recruits Jalen Hood-Scheveno and Maxwell Lewis, it may stick out more than the others.
The truth is, the most important move the Lakers made was rebuilding their superstars.
In addition to extending Davis, they re-signed a young trio of Austin Reeves (four years, $56 million), D’Angelo Russell (two years, $37 million) and Rui Hachimura (three years, $51 million). This essence helped Los Angeles go 18-6 through the end of the regular season, tournament play and the first two rounds of the playoffs. Add in a healthy and fresh LeBron James for his 21st season, and there is plenty of reason for optimism in Lakeland.
Wood could become a steal after a season in which he averaged 16.6 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 37.6% of 3 with the Dallas Mavericks. He could use the Lakers platform the same way Malik Monk and Schroeder have in recent seasons to regain value and get a bigger role if James or Davis miss any significant time due to injuries.
But if Wood, who finished last in the individual defensive rankings among the Mavericks’ rotating players last season, doesn’t fit into the Lakers’ agenda of getting together to pursue the franchise’s 18th championship, there isn’t much at stake.
“If he’s on his best behavior, he might be a good fit,” a source in the league’s front office told ESPN. “If it’s not, well, cut it off.”
Wood joins a streak that has been on the ups and downs since winning the 2020 Finals inside the NBA’s Orlando bubble. Despite this moniker, a combination of injuries and disappointing trades prevented the LeBron era from being considered a smash success.
Now, like any team aspiring to the title, the Lakers are hoping their bolstered roster – culminated in the latest signing of a big man – stays healthy. Knock on wood.