When Anthony Davis’s camp made it clear this week that the All-Star did not intend to sign an extension with the Pelicans this summer and would like to be traded, it ignited a feeding frenzy that will probably last until summer, as teams feverishly look for ways to acquire one of the NBA’s transcendent talents.
But according to multiple league sources, Boston has been diligently preparing for this scenario for months. During this time, the Celtics have made informal calls to the Pelicans, the sources said, understanding that New Orleans was in no hurry to trade its centerpiece, but making sure that if the time came where its hand was forced, Boston would be ready.
The sources said that in recent months the Celtics are believed to have consulted with numerous people who were once key parts of Davis’s circle — former agents, former Pelicans staffers — simply to glean any small pieces of insight about how they believed the star forward was approaching this potentially league-altering situation.
The Celtics came to the conclusion that Davis seemed unlikely to sign a super-max extension with the Pelicans this summer. And that belief helped them move forward with their own roster-building plans, because if Davis were off the table, other opportunities would have been pursued.
During the process, one source said, the Celtics even consulted with their current players to gauge their thoughts about teaming up with Davis. Davis’s friendship with Kyrie Irving has been well documented, and the sense within the organization is that the presence of Irving can only help Boston if it trades for Davis without an assurance that he will re-sign after the 2019-20 season.
The timing of Davis’s request, which drew him a $50,000 fine Tuesday because the public nature of it violates NBA rules, is certainly not ideal for the Celtics. A league rule forbids teams from acquiring multiple players who have signed designated rookie extensions, and Irving was the first. So the Celtics would have to wait until Irving opts out of his deal on July 1 to make a move, while most other teams can try to strike now, prior to next Thursday’s trade deadline.
But if Davis remains in New Orleans after the deadline, league sources say, there is a growing belief around the league that the Celtics would become the favorites to land the superstar forward.
The Celtics probably have the NBA’s shiniest collection of talented young players and future first-round picks, so it appears to be in New Orleans’s best interest to wait until June to hear Boston’s best offer. ESPN reported Monday that the Pelicans will probably hold off on a trade until after the deadline.
But moods and approaches change suddenly in the NBA, so at this point there are no guarantees. Also, teams such as the Lakers are aware of the Celtics’ war chest of assets and current restraints, so they will probably act aggressively in the coming days in an attempt to keep Boston out of the picture.
Yahoo Sports reported Monday that there is growing uncertainty about whether Irving will stick to his own word and re-sign with the Celtics this summer, and that the Celtics are “not a top target” for Davis. And according to ESPN, Davis’s camp is expected to soon make it known that Davis is solely focused on signing with the Lakers, and that any team that trades for him before then would lose him to free agency in 2020.
That could just be posturing, of course, and it’s unclear how Boston would react. In the end, though, the Pelicans have the final say about a potential trade.
Although the Celtics cannot finalize a trade for Davis now, they are not precluded from having early negotiations with the Pelicans. One source said that if New Orleans receives a bountiful offer from another team, it could then go to the Celtics and simply ask in a good-faith negotiation whether certain targets would be on the table in more direct talks this summer. An assurance could give the Pelicans peace of mind as they turn down a different offer now.
The Pelicans’ front office dynamics are a somewhat unknown variable in this process. Executive vice president of basketball operations Mickey Loomis’s primary responsibility is serving as the New Orleans Saints general manager, and he has said in multiple interviews that his role on the NBA side is often overblown.
Gayle Benson inherited ownership of the team after her husband Tom, who also owned the Saints, died last March, and this will be the first major personnel decision on her watch. Dell Demps has been the Pelicans general manager since 2010, and this seismic move will almost certainly define his uneven tenure.
The sources said it is unclear what the Pelicans are seeking in return for Davis, and whether the focus of the package would be high draft picks or All-Star-caliber players. But the Celtics are one of the few teams capable of providing both.