Go ahead and cancel your order for that beautiful, rainbow-themed Anthony Davis jersey you just placed. Yes, the jerseys are magnificent, but it’ll be an ancient relic by the end of 2019.
According to ESPN, Davis’ new agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, has told the Pelicans front office that his client is requesting a trade out of New Orleans as the NBA trade deadline looms.
With 10 more days until the Feb. 7 deadline, this trade request has clearly been well-planned.
But before we dive into where the Davis might end up being traded to, let’s quickly decipher how we even reached this point. The Pelicans are currently 22-28, which slots them at the 13th spot in the Western Conference and six games out of a playoff spot with less than half of the season remaining. After losing DeMarcus Cousins last season due to a brutal Achilles tear that subsequently caused him to leave New Orleans as a free agent for no other reason than they didn’t want to pay him, the front office tried to bandaid that loss. The additions of Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton over the summer and the trade for Nikola Mirotic before last year’s trade deadline maintained the status the Pelicans previously held. They didn’t regress, but it was hard to argue they improved.
Which, at the time, didn’t seem like a terrible plan. New Orleans had just swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the eventual NBA Champion Golden State Warriors in round two. The continued development of Davis was obvious and his counterpart, Jrue Holiday, was coming off his best season a pro. At the start of this season, Randle was incorporated successfully and the Pelicans had a lethal frontcourt.
Then the injuries trickled in. Davis has missed nine games already. Randle has missed three, E’Twaun Moore was missed six, Mirotic has sat out 18 games, and Payton hasn’t even played in half of the team’s games so far. But injuries are the easiest way to blame this failed now seven-year run that the Pellies have had with Davis. Look around at the contracts the Pelicans have handed out (and ones they haven’t handed out) over the previous few seasons and you’ll understand where Davis’ discontent is coming from. The Pelicans front office has strangled themselves with hefty contracts for subpar players that were only tradable if the return was a loss for them.
It’s not like Davis is just now playing like an All-Star. It was clear as day before he even selected with the No. 1 overall pick back in 2012 that Davis was destined to be a superstar. Good organizations will plan years in advance to build a team around a superstar as they enter their prime. Bad organizations will do everything they can to fill stadium seats as quickly as possible without actually fixing the issue. New Orleans followed the route of a bad organization and they’re paying for it with the news that broke Monday morning.
So now what? Where should we expect Davis to land now? The Pelicans don’t have to trade him, but Davis can opt out of his contract in the summer and straight up leave New Orleans with nothing in return. Here are a few possible outcomes that I could realistically see happening with Davis.
Trade to Los Angeles Lakers
This is going to be the most apparent, especially with the connection between agents, as Davis and LeBron James are both clients of Rich Paul. But it also makes the most sense. The Lakers – outside of the Celtics, who I will talk more about in a minute – can offer the most assets to the Pelicans and can execute a trade as soon as today, if they’d like.
Davis requesting a trade has definitely hurt the Pelicans a tad in terms of leverage, but Davis is going to be such a hot commodity that he is the leverage. Just having the player that everyone else wants is enough leverage to seek a deal that they would prefer. He’s still under contract for another year and a half. If I’m the Pelicans, L.A. would need to pony up, though. I don’t even answer the phone if the Lakers aren’t offering at least three of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, or Josh Hart. And even then, there better a first round pick involved.
A trade looking something like Ingram, Ball, Kuzma, and a first-round pick might be enough to coax New Orleans out of Davis, but that’s also damn near the entire group that the Lakers have spent the last three seasons trying to accumulate. However, that feels like a solid price to pay to pair up Davis next to LeBron freaking James. The Lakers have always been about adding that “second star” since Magic Johnson took over basketball operations. Well, here’s their chance. If they were serious about it, they should have no problem parting ways with all of those assets.
On the other hand, is that actually going to be enough for the Pelicans? Sure, having three incredibly young and potentially talented prospects along with a first-round pick – which would likely be in the 20’s – could be a great coup to rebuild with. But those are three players with massive question marks. I’m personally a huge believer in Ball, but the injuries are definitely worrisome. Ingram will play two great games in a row only to play three terrible ones. Kuzma has consistently played the best of the three, but at 23-years old, how much better can he realistically get as a pure scorer? Would the Lakers ask for someone like Darius Miller in return to help maintain some outside shooting? Things could get real complicated real quick. On paper, getting (technically) four first-round picks for an All-Star seems like a fair trade, however it goes much deeper than that. But the Lakers can offer the most assets, so they should have the best shot at getting Davis, right?
Trade to Boston Celtics
True, the Lakers can offer the most assets right now, but if New Orleans decides to wait until the offseason, they might be able to swindle a better deal with the team out of Boston. The Celtics can’t legally trade for Davis until the summer due to a CBA rule that Drew noted when the news broke, but once they can, they’ll easily hold the best hand.
The Celtics have an entire bunker’s worth of assets at their disposal, and it’s not limited to just young players. The Celtics could have as many as FIVE first round draft picks in the upcoming draft which they could use to entice the Lakers once they acquire them. On top of the potential players in what is expected to be a solid and deep draft, Boston can offer up players such as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, or even Marcus Smart.
But similar to the Lakers situation, if I’m New Orleans, that initial phone call coming from Danny Ainge in Boston better begin with Tatum, Brown, and a couple first-round picks or I’m hanging up. The Davis-to-Boston rumors have been alive before Davis was even born. This is something that some view as inevitable, especially if Davis doesn’t get traded before the deadline. But what makes the NBA so alluring is the element of surprise and awe.
Kawhi Leonard was never mentioned as a potential trade suitor with the Toronto Raptors and the same can be said about Paul George and his trade from the Pacers to the Thunder. Did anyone realistically think that Kyrie Irving would be traded from the Cavaliers to the Celtics, OF ALL TEAMS? Absolutely not. When Cousins signed with the Warriors I thought I’d officially seen it all. but that’s the thing with this league. Once you think you’ve seen every rendition of what might happen, something even crazier comes along. We’re living in an era that I like to call the “player empowerment movement”. We’re beginning to see players finally flex this power they’ve always had but never known how to successfully take advantage of. Who’s to say Davis even wants to go Boston or Los Angeles?
Trade to the field
I’m going to make something perfectly clear. Every single team in the NBA is going to inquire about Davis. Some will obviously be more serious than others, but there is not one general manager that woke up on Monday morning and didn’t think of someway their team could land Davis. 10 days before the trade deadline is a long time in the NBA world. While trades can often time take days or even weeks to mull over, discuss, and finalize with all sides in full agreement, things just seem to go differently when a star is involved. There are going to be teams asking about Davis every day for the next 10 days that no one in the media will ever know about.
The New York Knicks, for one, can offer a package centered around Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Knox, and Frank Ntlikina. This is probably a good time to note that Davis can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, so any team that does trade for him could lose him the following summer for nothing. That’s the risk that teams such as the Knicks will run, considering that unlike the Lakers and Celtics, any trade for Davis would gut their entire core. But New York will have cap room to offer Davis and another superstar (Kevin Durant, anyone?) max contracts. At that point, you just get Davis and Durant as quickly as possible and figure everything else out later. Those two alone can get you a top-four seed in the East, easily.
Then you have teams such as the Denver Nuggets, who will make every one of their players available – except Nikola Jokic – despite already being one of the top teams in the whole league. Yes, that includes Jamal Murray. And New Orleans shouldn’t even think to talk to Denver if Murray and Gary Harris aren’t the headliners. The Nuggets have quietly built an elite bench with plenty of enticing prospects that the Pelicans will undoubtedly take a look at.
The Portland Trail Blazers always like to pretend they have a stake in something like this and could build a trade around C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic but that doesn’t seem likely at all. Then we start to get into weird teams such as the Brooklyn Nets, which are flooded with young prospects and future cap space, but haven’t seemed willing to break up what they’ve been building over the last two or three years. Although a superstar player like Davis can change that with one phone call.
Could Philadelphia offer up Ben Simmons as a headliner and see if the Pelicans take the bait on that? Do I even dare mention that Golden State could move on from Klay Thompson and Draymond Green? There are literally endless options. The only team I can confidently say doesn’t have a single horse in this race is the Cleveland Cavaliers. There are even realities where I see Davis being traded to Charlotte, Detroit, or Miami. Do I think that will happen? No, but if I’ve learned anything about studying the NBA as closely as I have the past few years, it’s that nothing should surprise you anymore.
Honestly, though, trading for Davis is only half the battle and probably the easier part. The difficulty is going to be convincing him to resign next summer.
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