On Monday, January 28, Anthony Davis informed the New Orleans Pelicans that he will not be signing a contract extension and is seeking a trade.
Davis, at 25 years of age, is a five-time NBA All-Star and three-time All-NBA First Team selection, and is one of the league’s most sought after players. After six-and-a-half lacklustre seasons with the Pelicans, in which the front office has struggled to build a consistently strong supporting cast around him, this demand comes as no surprise.
Davis has been fined $50,000 for taking the trade demand public and stating that the Lakers are his preferred destination. While not altogether surprising, the timing of the demand is important.
At present, the team with the most to offer the Pelicans (and greatest willingness) is the Boston Celtics. However, as the Celtics already traded for Kyrie Irving as a designated player, and NBA teams can only have one designated player on their roster who they traded for at a time, they will have to wait until the off-season to conduct a trade.
Of course the Celtics could swap Davis and Irving, however, that seems very unlikely.
Now such a demand and statement is not uncommon among the NBA’s top superstars who find themselves stranded on poorly performing teams. These players have the capacity to leverage their stardom and manipulate the trade market to better their chances of landing in their preferred destination, however it has not always been successful.
Paul George made it clear the Lakers were his team of choice and, despite the risk of losing him after one season for nothing, the Thunder re-signed George on a four-year $137 million dollar deal. George is now having an MVP-calibre season for a contending team.
This past offseason saw the Spurs trade franchise cornerstone Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors. Prior to the trade, it was widely speculated that Leonard’s destination of choice was either LA team – with a preference for the Lakers.
In spite of this, the Raptors, who had struggled to take a meaningful leap in the playoffs with their core of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, chose to take a risk and trade the beloved DeRozan to the Spurs for the 2014 Finals MVP.
This season, Leonard has returned from his injury in MVP form and has elevated the Raptors to another level.
The take away from this is that; one, players want to be in LA and, two, teams are not afraid to take risks on franchise-altering players with the hope they can wow them with their on-court performance and off-court professionalism once they arrive.
Essentially, both the Thunder and Raptors awarded themselves a 12-month courting period that no other team has the luxury of.
So what does this mean for Davis? Well, while the Lakers can make a compelling trade offer at the deadline, and while Davis has long been at the top of their wish list and will pursue a trade relentlessly, there are other teams around the league who will be making offers.
Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers Trade: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Beasley, Moritz Wagner, and two future first round picks.
Pelicans Trade: Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill, Tim Frazier
The Lakers will make an offer built around their young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram. It is likely the Pelicans will seek to include Solomon Hill, or potential Nikola Mirotic, in any trade in an effort to create cap flexibility moving forward. To meet these salary requirements the Lakers will have to contribute a number of other players, most likely Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The Pelicans will include a player like Tim Frazier to mitigate the management headaches required in such a lopsided trade with respect to the number of players switching teams. The Pelicans are also actively seeking to trade Julius Randle, Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic to make room for the incoming players required to make this trade occur.
76ers Trade: Jimmy Butler and Markell Faltz
Pelicans Trade: Anthony Davis
While it is unlikely new GM Elton Brand will undo the first significant move of his tenure, this potential trade is particularly interesting.
Jimmy Butler was the star player the 76ers were looking for to complete their big three alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Since his arrival, the 76ers have continued winning but there are stylistic and personality fit concerns frequently being reported. It is not becoming of an NBA franchise to flip players so fast however sending Butler and Markell Faltz to the Pelicans for Davis is one of the better deals the Pelicans will receive.
Butler is an all-star and likely one of the best players that could be offered to the Pelicans. He has a player option for approximately $20 million for the 2019-20 season, which he could very well decline, making him only a rental for the Pelicans. The Pelicans currently sit five games back from the eighth seed.
A trade for Butler is built on the premise that the Pelicans will continue to compete in 2019, not impossible but potentially unlikely. What is more likely is for the franchise to embrace a complete tank for the remainder of the season, consequently, a Butler rental is a risk they may be unwilling to take on.
Adding Faltz to the deal is an interesting sweetener. Faltz is the ultimate mystery. A consensus number one overall pick who has dealt with a myriad of physical and mental challenges. A change of scenery certainly couldn’t hurt Faltz and if by some magic he can regain his former powers he could turn the tables on this trade.
Bucks Trade: Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Thon Maker, Donte DiVincenzo
Pelicans Trade: Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill
The Milwaukee Bucks have been reported to have put all players on the table, except for Giannis of course, when discussing potential trades for Anthony Davis. This is a risky move for a franchise that has finally found a winning formula built around the leagues other most intriguing young star.
Gutting the roster for Davis makes sense insofar as pairing Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo has boundless potential for a decade to come and could be a move that is the foundation of a dynasty.
On the other hand building a winning team takes more than just two other worldy superstars and, if the Bucks trade away their depth, they may struggle to find sustained success in the short term.
The most obvious deal here would see the Bucks send Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton along with young prospects Thon Maker and Donte DiVincenzo to the Pelicans for Davis and Solomon Hill.
This trade is again built on the premise that New Orleans seek to compete in 2019, with both Bledsoe and Middleton potentially becoming free agents after this season. A line up of Bledsoe, Holiday, Middleton, Mirotic and Randle isn’t anything for the Pelicans to turn their noses up at, however there is great risk two fifths of it is gone after less than 30 games.
Raptors Trade: Serge Ibaka, Danny Green, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Future First round pick
Pelicans Trade: Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore
Now the Raptors are a dark horse to make a very interesting offer here. Like the Celtics, they have a strong collection of young talented players that would be of great interest to a tanking and rebuilding Pelicans team. Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby would be non-negotiables.
Danny Green and Serge Ibaka would be included to make salaries match, and while Ibaka still has another year on his contract after this one, Danny Green can be let go in free agency and the space opened up by sending E’twaun Moore and Solomon Hill to the Raptors mitigates this.
Toss in Fred VanVleet or Delon Wright with a future pick or two and you have a deal that the Pelicans will be very interested in. For the Raptors it means disrupting the exceptional second unit, a significant strength for this squad, and relying more heavily on Norman Powell, CJ Miles and other rotation players who have not seen consistent minutes or performance this season.
The Raptors would likely be looking for help in the buyout market or free agency or another trade to reinforce the gaps left behind.
Pistons Trade: Andre Dummond, Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, 2019, 2021 First Round Picks Unprotected
Pelicans Trade: Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday
By sending Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson, along with as many picks as the Pistons can legally send to the Pelicans for Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday the Pistons can put a big three together that, on paper at least, is capable of contending in the east this year and next.
Griffin, who is having a resurgent season, would be a re-do of the brief Cousins-Davis affair in New Orleans, which showed plenty of promise before it was cut short. Arguably Griffin is a better fit for Davis, with respect to basketball skill sets, experience and temperament.
Such a Pistons squad would face many of the same challenges the Davis ear Pelicans faced, primarily a lack of depth and potential fit issues with other front court players, however such a move would make a lot of sense for the Pistons.
Moving on from Andre Drummond, who has not developed into the All-Star they had hoped he would, and the $55 million he is owed over the next two seasons, and the exceptionally overpaid reggie Jackson ($35 million over two years) gives them cap relief and flexibility. And should Davis leave at the end of the 2020 season, the Pistons will still have both Griffin and Holiday under contract, easily a better place to be than Drummond and Jackson.
The Pistons would be required to give up a few picks to make this happen so it is not without risk, however for a franchise that has been the definition of mediocre such a move is worth the risk.
For the Pelicans this trade represents options. While Reggie Jackson is one of the most ineffective players in the NBA and grossly overpaid, Drummond still has potential in the right setting. It is unlikely he will ever offer good value on his contract, however in a front court rotation with Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle he could be set up to succeed.
While his defence has never come along to the place needed to be an elite rim running center in the NBA, with more space on the floor he could wreak havoc on the boards while his offensive game continues to improve. Stanley Johnson was the eighth overall pick in 2015 and a change of scenery will almost certainly do him well.
Alternatively, they can embrace the tank and trade away quality rotation guys like Mitotic and Moore for draft picks and pretend to roll out an NBA team with Jackson and Drummond while they collect losses and win lotteries.
Portland Trail Blazers
Blazers Trade: CJ McCollum, Zach Collins, 2021 first round pick unprotected
Pelicans Trade: Anthony Davis
For too long a narrative has hovered over the Blazers that the team’s potential is limited by its gifted but ultimately too small and one-dimensional back court. For years the blow it up question has been bandied around and now might be the perfect time to take action.
The Blazers first offer will certainly be built around CJ McCollum. The Pelicans will ask for Damian Lillard, who playing alongside Jrue Holiday would make for an exciting back court and a team the Pelicans can hope to be competitive right away. It seems unlikely Portland will part with Lillard given the level or risk associated with Davis leaving, and CJ is not a bad player in his own right.
CJ paired with Zach Collins (2017 tenth pick, a player who has shown flashes of potential this year) and a first round pick (probably the 2021 pick, as this would fall after Davis would leave) is likely to be the best offer Portland will be able to stomach.
This would give the Pelicans a strong ensemble cast that they can talk themselves into but in reality won’t have what it takes to compete in the deep western conference.
The Blazers on the other hand are already all in on their current roster and this would simply give them a top ten player and a new look that will increase their potential.
Kings Trade: Marvin Bagley, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson, Zach Randolph, Protected 2021 first round pick
Pelicans Trade: Anthony Davis
The Kings could come out of nowhere and make a compelling offer to the Pelicans. With a roster full of youth, the Kings can easily assist should the Pelican opt to rebuild.
The Pelicans will be looking for as much young talent here as possible in a hope to hit on at least one future all-star. Any deal starts with the number two selection from the 2018 draft Marvin Bagley. The Kings have no issues dealing him away here given he plays the same position as Davis.
From here, Zach Randolph and his expiring $11 million are included as salary filler. The Kings must then include at least two if not three other young players. The Pelicans will inquire after De’Aaron Fox but he will be off the table, so too Buddy Hield most likely, and sending him back to New Orleans seems cruel.
Despite only being in his second year, Bogdan Bogdanovic is already 27. He has shown great potential but is unlikely to be the piece the Pelicans are after. Willie Cauley-Stein seems likely to a non-negotiable for the Pelicans. From here it is a selection of Harry Giles, Justin Jackson and Skal Labissiere.
Pairing David with Fox is an exciting prospect, and supported by Hield and Bogdanovic, the team has a lot to be excited about. While the trade may rob the Kings of some of their rotation pieces this can be solved at the deadline or in the buyout market.
It is undoubtedly a risky move for a franchise that has not tasted much success since the early 2000s. Finally things are looking very bright and such a trade could see that all for nought should Davis leave at the end of 2020.
Additionally, despite sitting only 1.5 games out of the eighth seed, a trade for Davis would not at all assure the Kings of a playoff spot this season, putting a lot of pressure on the organisation to perform in 2020.
The Pelicans would get a slew of young talent back that they can either complement their existing core with or sell the current talent and build around Bagley and Cauley-Stein and hope that one other genuine rotation player emerges from the trade.
The inclusion of a pick here would be a point of tension in the negotiation given the Kings would be relinquishing the second overall selection as well as another young player having a breakout season.
Nuggets Trade: Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr, Isaiah Thomas, 2021 protected first round selection
Pelicans Trade: Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill
They say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and that is almost certainly what the Nuggets should and will do this trade deadline, however they would be negligent not to pick up the phone. How you best pair Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis is a great problem for a coach to have, however there may not be an easy solution. Jokic is such an unusual beast.
Not only his is brand of play entirely unique, but his enigmatic personality also adds to the complication. Despite being clearly the best player on the roster for two and a half seasons, the coaches and players have had to implore the big Serb to rise to the role of superstar, a responsibility he adopts more frequently now but never without reluctance.
Adding an All-NBA player to a team that has finally figured out how to get the most out of its unique roster is playing with fire. All that said that thought of combining Davis and Jokic is mouthwatering.
Denver will not be selling the farm to make this happen but they can offer an interesting package should the Pelicans seek to rebuild. Paul Milsap’s expiring $30-million is a good starting point, this also allows the Pelicans to dump the Salary of Solomon Hill. Next is the centerpiece player, Gary Harris and Will Barton are nice players but they won’t get this deal done.
It will come down to Denver’s willingness to part ways with Jamal Murray. Murray is an elite prospect who has already shown how great of a scorer her can be and many believe Murray to be assured multiple All-Star selections. His inclusion should have the Pelicans listening.
To sweeten the deal the Nuggets can throw in Michael Porter Jr, a former consensus first overall pick who slid down the draft due to injury issues. Porter is a complete wild card at this point but if he can get back to full health and be the player many believed he would be coming out of high school he could be a consistent All-Star.
Finally, the Nuggets will add in Isaiah Thomas. Thomas is two years removed from finishing top five in MVP voting and while injuries have severely hampered him his last two seasons the Pelicans would get a first hand look at him and potentially the best chance to re-sign him this off-season if they feel he can come back and be close to the player he once was.