What Anthony Davis’s trade demand did Monday was shift an unusual amount of power in the hands of the small-market New Orleans Pelicans, who now have the option of selecting the trade package they’d like for their superstar.
It obviously hasn’t worked for Davis in New Orleans in terms of on-court success. The Pelicans reached the Western Conference semifinals last season with an upset of the Portland Trail Blazers, but were disposed by the Golden State Warriors.
Now they are languishing near the bottom of the Western Conference and with little hope of attracting another big-time player to join Davis, they will try to move him and get the best deal possible.
The Celtics have the most assets to offer. Four first-round picks, perhaps Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown or both. Except for the obscure Derrick Rose rule — which allows players who twice made the All-NBA team or were an All-Star starter or MVP during their rookie contracts to make 30 percent of the salary cap — two of those players can’t be on the same team unless via trade. That means the Celtics would have to include Kyrie Irving in the deal if they want Davis for this playoff run. Otherwise, the Celtics have to wait until Irving opts out of his current contract this summer.
That makes Boston an unlikely destination unless the Pelicans want to wait. Meanwhile, there is a reason why Davis’s agent, Rich Paul, publicly announced Davis’s decision to request a trade nine days before the trade deadline.
It allows Davis’s preferred team, the Los Angeles Lakers, to come up with the assets to work out a deal. The Lakers have the assets. They have spent the past five seasons in the draft lottery accumulating talent.
They have Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball to trade, as well as Josh Hart and center Ivica Zubac and draft picks to send to New Orleans. LeBron James wants to play with Davis and the two would make a formidable tandem to compete with the Warriors.
The reason the Lakers stacked so many assets was for the possibility to make a deal like this. It’s taken perhaps too long in the eyes of Lakers president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka for Ingram and Ball to develop. So why not ship them to New Orleans for a player in his prime to pair with James? The door is wide open for the Lakers to pull off this deal.
Holding on to these assets would be a calculated risk for the Lakers, who had planned to sign another maximum-salaried free agent in the summer. But with a chance to get the 25-year-old Davis ahead of other teams, and with Davis wanting to play in Los Angeles, the Lakers better jump on this.
Johnson and Pelinka have been seeking significance for their organization and even acquiring James hasn’t completed the task. The Lakers have struggled mightily with James out the last 16 games with a groin strain and will have to fight to reach the postseason.
The New York Knicks could make a play for Davis and have the expiring contract of Enes Kanter, as well as Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, and Mitchell Robinson, and draft picks to offer. New York, like the Lakers, have been waiting for this summer to make a free agent splash and acquiring Davis could make the club more attractive to an impending free agent.
Of course, Davis in the Atlantic Division playing against the Celtics four times a year wouldn’t be welcome news to Boston fans. The Knicks will have to decide quickly whether they want to be major players or wait out the process and simply add a free agent.
New Orleans general manager Dell Demps has to bring a hefty return in this deal because his job could be on the line. So it would be in his best interest to wait until the trade deadline to see what the Lakers, Knicks, or another club comes up with.
Davis is signed through 2019-20, meaning he would be more than a midseason rental. But it’s highly unlikely a dark-horse team would emerge to make a bid unless it was certain Davis would re-sign long term. Davis always has pledged loyalty to New Orleans until Monday, but the timing of the move is an indication he wants to play for the Lakers.
It gets tricky for Demps because if he feels the Celtics would bring the best return July 1, he could conceivably wait for that deal, but he would pass on likely attractive packages from the Knicks and Lakers.
Davis is a top-five player in the NBA and this summer could feature players such as Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Davis, and Irving all available. With Davis being available now, it allows teams to devise ways to nab two of the aforementioned players — one trade and the other by free agency — and suddenly become an elite team.
Wherever Davis goes, it will shift the power of the NBA because it will be a larger-market team. The NBA would prefer smaller-market clubs keep their superstars and that’s why the supermax contract was created, but that hasn’t discouraged players from bolting those middling clubs for greener pastures.
So it will be a fascinating next nine days, a stretch that could determine the long-term fates of the Lakers, Knicks, and Pelicans.