With Anthony Davis, New Orleans Needs to Wait for Boston
The Pelicans have to trade their franchise player. The Celtics want him, and have the best assets, but a CBA rule means they can't offer it until the summer.
Photo by CJ Gunther
The Boston Celtics have been waiting years for today: Anthony Davis officially wants out. Almost every major decision the Celtics have made since (at least) Kevin Durant spurned them in free agency was with Davis in mind. They didn’t haphazardly forfeit any Brooklyn picks for Paul George or Jimmy Butler (though they were in on talks for George), and seized every opportunity they could to pack new assets into their war chest.
The Celtics built a championship contender through free agency and one opportunistic trade after another. Then Kyrie Irving landed in their lap. Now Davis is available, but, somewhat ironically, Irving prevents Boston from immediately acquiring him because no team is allowed to have two so-called "Rose Rule" contracts on their books at the same time. (Irving will opt out of his contract on July 1st, officially opening the door for the Celtics to trade for Davis.) This isn’t the greatest development for Boston, but it’s also not the end of the world. The New Orleans Pelicans know the Celtics want their franchise player, and they also know few other teams, if any, can help strap more powerful jumper cables to their rebuild than Boston.
Of course, Boston is not the only team that’s interested in Davis. The Los Angeles Lakers would love to have him, and ostensibly don’t have to worry about the Celtics while negotiating until February 7th. But unless Davis personally announces that he only wants to play for the Lakers, this logic has serious holes. Sure, not every team in the league is willing to surrender their most valuable assets for a player who can leave in a year. But for a talent like Davis—a.k.a. a 25-year-old five-time All-Star who’s led the league in blocks three times and is currently averaging 29.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game!—plenty of organizations should be willing to roll the dice. For New Orleans, the more the merrier.
As intriguing as Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma are, those three (plus a pick or two) aren’t good enough. Even if the Lakers are willing to absorb Solomon Hill or E’Twaun Moore’s contract—something that probably won’t work unless Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who’s represented by the same agent as LeBron James and Davis) signs off on the trade—it still doesn’t cut it relative to what else may be out there.
Here’s what New Orleans should do: Take a deep breath, inform Davis he’s played his last game in a Pelicans uniform, shop Jrue Holiday, Julius Randle, and Nikola Mirotic, tank, wait for the lottery, then field offers from a wider field of potential partners. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, a first-round pick from the tanking Memphis Grizzlies, and the aforementioned Kings pick are all, in a vacuum, highly desirable. The Pelicans should wait. (Ben Simmons is an intriguing trade chip going forward, but neither Philadelphia nor New Orleans should feel 100 percent confident about their new franchise player committing for the long haul—LSU isn’t exactly New Orleans, but is it so insane to believe Simmons would use his qualifying offer as a threat? And on paper, Davis and Embiid have the potential to be sulfuric acid, but that on/off-court fit isn’t ideal for a variety of reasons.)
Other scenarios will surely appear. What if the New York Knicks win the lottery? This is complicated and involves a potential sign-and-trade with Kristaps Porzingis that he’d have to agree with, but if the Knicks put the first pick on the table with dreams of teaming Davis up with Kevin Durant, things get very spicy. And what if the Chicago Bulls win the lottery (or land a top-three pick), then signal that they’re willing to throw Lauri Markkanen into the pot, with trust that they can sell Davis on staying long term as the savior of his home-town’s once-proud franchise?
And there’s another factor here: What do the Pelicans want? Is Dell Demps/Mickey Loomis/Gayle Benson’s priority to stay competitive in the short term (lol) or uproot everything and start over? Will they seek the same package that San Antonio received for Kawhi Leonard, or one with the future in mind? Here’s where things may go off the rails. What if the Oklahoma City Thunder say “take Russell Westbrook,” then pair Davis with George and let cultural magician Sam Presti work his magic.
The Denver Nuggets have Jamal Murray, Gary Harris Jr., Michael Porter, Jr., and a few other interesting pieces. And in the short-term, the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets have some neat stuff. So do the Clippers. Nothing probably beats what Boston can offer, but that doesn't mean New Orleans won't investigate every possibility.
Davis is a comet. Players that good, this young, aren’t up for grabs very often, if ever. The Pelicans are in a terrible spot (which, by the way, they mostly have themselves to blame), and executing a deal before every team that’s interested is allowed to make their best offer would be a terrific way to turn it into a catastrophe. A tweet can change everything, but where things currently stand, New Orleans has a ton of leverage. They should make good use of it by being as patient as they possibly can.