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Anthony Davis trade season is officially official—for real this time.
Speculation surrounding his future with the New Orleans Pelicans has persisted all year, and the clock started ticking long before that. But all debates, subversive recruitments and hypothetical destinations remained immaterial without a definitive trade request from Davis himself.
New Orleans has now received that nudge.
Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, has informed the Pelicans that his client has no intention of signing a contract extension with them this summer and “wants to be traded to a team that allows him a chance to win consistently and compete for a championship,” ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday.
Most will see this request as a not-so-subtle attempt of getting the All-NBA big man into a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. Davis’ camp has not specified a preferred destination, per Woj, but making this request public before the Feb. 7 deadline removes the Boston Celtics from the impromptu sweepstakes (for now). Teams cannot trade for two players on designated rookie extensions, and they already acquired Kyrie Irving.
To be clear: The Pelicans are under no obligation to grant Davis’ request. They have less than two weeks to suss out suitable offers. That isn’t a lot of time, even if they’ve already done their due diligence.
Letting general manager Dell Demps oversee the search is inherently risky unless New Orleans doesn’t plan to clean house while entering its next phase, and waiting to trade Davis until the summer allows the Celtics to reset the asking price once Irving declines his player option. That would also give the Pelicans a chance to let the draft lottery play out and see where Zion Williamson lands.
Still, they have to sniff out the best offers now. The Lakers are not their only option. Davis’ next squad would have roughly 18 months to sell him on a long-term future. That’s two playoff pushes for some suitors, and plenty of time in general for franchises outside of this year’s postseason scrum.
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New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Wendell Carter Jr., Chandler Hutchison, Jabari Parker, 2019 first-round pick (unprotected), 2020 second-round pick (from Memphis, via Chicago), 2021 first-round pick (top-five protection)
Chicago Bulls Receive: Ian Clark (must consent to trade), Anthony Davis, Tim Frazier
The Bulls are not an ideal landing spot given Davis’ reported preference for consistent title contention. But their front office remains unpredictable, and he’s from Chicago.
Surrendering so much for Davis accelerates the Bulls’ timeline, which should be fine. They already paid Zach LaVine, and this package still leaves them with a clear path to more than $30 million in cap space over the summer. Max money would be a small salary-dump away, and the combination of Davis, LaVine and Lauri Markkanen will at least garner consideration from marquee names.
New Orleans could push for Markkanen’s inclusion. He’s a known commodity, and Chicago’s 2021 first-rounder won’t have much value if Davis sticks around. Then again, tying the rebuild to so many current players creates an awkward timeline.
Markkanen will need a new contract before the Pelicans are ready to contend again, and Carter will be right behind him. If the Pelicans are prepared to play the longer game, betting against the Bulls’ ability to re-sign Davis is the more lucrative play.
If New Orleans would rather have Markkanen, he can be subbed in for the 2021 selection.
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New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tobias Harris, Jerome Robinson, Milos Teodosic, 2019 second-round pick, 2021 first-round pick (unprotected and contingent upon obligation to Boston)
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: Ian Clark (must consent to trade), Anthony Davis, Tim Frazier, Frank Jackson
Hashing out a deal with the Clippers is difficult. They don’t have the wiggle room under the luxury tax to take back extra money, and they owe their 2019 first-round pick to Boston (lottery protected). This package loses a ton of appeal if they miss the playoffs after landing Davis—entirely possible!—which would then prevent their first-rounder from conveying to New Orleans before 2022.
On the flip side, the Pelicans will be hard-pressed to secure a return better equipped to straddle two timelines.
Tobias Harris is a free agent this summer, but he doesn’t turn 27 until July and is playing like a fringe All-Star. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is already good and has the potential to be great. New Orleans shouldn’t read too much into his current outside struggles. High-end three-and-D weapons aren’t often associated with the guard positions, and he stands to eventually marry the two.
Jerome Robinson is a nice flier. He just started getting regular rotation minutes, and going on 22, he’s old for a rookie. But cost-controlled contracts are vital currency for rebuilding squads, and New Orleans will need all the shot-creators it can get following Davis’ departure.
Whether the Clippers would fork over an unprotected first-rounder so far down the line is up for debate, but it shouldn’t be. They have designs on signing two max players this summer. They would still have room for one after landing Davis, and poaching superstars is easier when you can pitch them on an incumbent running mate.
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New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac, 2019 first-round pick (unprotected)
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Anthony Davis, Tim Frazier, Wesley Johnson
Sources told the Los Angeles Times‘ Brad Turner that the Lakers have to “to start the deal with Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac [and a] No. 1 pick” if they want Davis.
Emphasis on start the deal.
That exact package—which would require more salary filler—is one the Pelicans only accept if they’re out of leverage. They aren’t. Davis could flat-out say he’ll only re-sign with the Lakers, and it still wouldn’t be hard for New Orleans to find better offers.
Much of the shine has faded from Los Angeles’ top prospects. Kuzma has played the most consistent basketball of the bunch, and even he doesn’t come close to profiling as a top-50 player.
Adding Brandon Ingram beefs up the deal quite a bit. Other permutations exist if the Pelicans prefer Josh Hart to him or Ball. And New Orleans should not shy away from asking for a 2021 first-round pick. Nor should Los Angeles be above including it. This year’s selection holds only so much sparkle when the Lakers will have 25-plus games with Davis and LeBron James under their belt.
Order of events matters here. The Lakers can play hardball, citing what Davis’ 2019-20 salary does to their offseason flexibility. Good luck getting the Pelicans to care.
Besides, while they’ll fall short of max room, the Lakers could carve out more than $25 million in space after swinging this deal. Getting Davis now doesn’t fully displace them from the superstar conversation this summer.
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New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Tim Hardaway Jr., Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson, 2019 first-round pick (unprotected), 2020 second-round pick (from Charlotte, via New York), 2021 first-round pick (top-one protection)
New York Knicks Receive: Anthony Davis, Tim Frazier, Wesley Johnson
Kristaps Porzingis’ exclusion stands out. Move beyond it. He’s working his way back from a torn left ACL and is on track to receive a max contract in restricted free agency. The Pelicans can extract a more compelling offer from the Knicks without him. And they may be open to giving up the farm.
“You’re gonna see the Knicks try to be aggressive here now. If you’re the Knicks, Kristaps Porzingis is a player who New Orleans would have to believe they could re-sign if they traded for him. And he may not be open to that. So, if you’re the Knicks, the best chance you have is getting the No. 1 overall pick and being in a position post-lottery time where you could tell the Pelicans ‘Hey, you can have Zion Williamson, you could rebuild with him.”
Taking on Tim Hardaway Jr. isn’t ideal. He has two years and $37.1 million left on his contract (2020-21 player option). He’s also the perfect player for a full-scale rebuild. He’ll put up numbers without negatively impacting New Orleans’ draft stock.
By swallowing Hardaway’s salary, the Pelicans incentivize the Knicks to give up the full boat. Getting off his money while adding Davis puts New York within striking distance of opening another max slot. Waiving Lance Thomas (2019-20 salary non-guaranteed until June 30) puts them in range for Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard, and finding a taker for Courtney Lee’s 2019-20 salary ($12.8 million) arms them with Kevin Durant-level money.
Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina aren’t the flashiest immediate assets. The Pelicans should look past that. Davis doesn’t have enough time to completely ruin the value of New York’s draft pick, and anyone familiar with the Knicks’ body of work over the past few decades knows that a lightly protected pick in 2021 could wind up making the deal worthwhile on its own.
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New Orleans Pelicans Receive: DeMar DeRozan, Bryn Forbes, Lonnie Walker, 2019 first-round pick (unprotected), 2019 first-round pick (from Toronto, via San Antonio)
San Antonio Spurs Receive: Anthony Davis, Tim Frazier, Wesley Johnson
The Spurs do not make midseason trades, their asset base isn’t great, blah, blah, blah. We get it. But they’d be an interesting candidate if the Pelicans are trying to remain afloat without Davis.
DeMar DeRozan’s contract is fine for a team trying to contend for playoff berths now. All-Star players with two years left on their deal are hard to find. He gives the Pelicans a level of competitive security they won’t get with most other offers.
Accepting him as the primary return would not be the most prudent play. It makes more sense for the Pelicans to net a collection of long-term assets and start over. But teams do not rebuild in a vacuum. Not every franchise can navigate a grueling, years-long reset. Having another brand name will mean more to the New Orleans market than most others.
And if the Pelicans are keen on DeRozan, the Spurs have a number of tantalizing sweeteners to include.
Bryn Forbes is a legit off-the-dribble weapon who’s owed peanuts in 2019-20 ($2.9 million). Lonnie Walker is a lottery-level prospect. And San Antonio can offer two 2019 first-round picks with Toronto’s selection on its docket.
Keeping Davis could be an issue for the Spurs. They won’t have truckloads of cap space this summer, and their best packages pillage a modestly stocked war chest. Head coach Gregg Popovich’s future matters as well. Assuming this much risk makes it a non-starter if he isn’t planning to stay on the sidelines for the next few years.
In the event that he is, the Spurs can feel comfortable betting on themselves. Davis, Popovich, LaMarcus Aldridge, a healthy Dejounte Murray and Derrick White can be something special in the Western Conference.
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New Orleans Pelicans Receive: OG Aunoby, Pascal Siakam, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, 2021 first-round pick (top-three protection)
Toronto Raptors Receive: Anthony Davis, Darius Miller
Going all-in on Anthony Davis would be tough if the Raptors don’t have a pulse on Kawhi Leonard’s free-agency plans. But boy, could they make a compelling offer.
Pascal Siakam is a top-40-or-better player with a year-and-a-half left on his rookie-scale contract. OG Anunoby’s shooting has slipped since last season, but he remains among the league’s top three-and-D prospects. Having Delon Wright’s matching rights ahead of restricted free agency isn’t nothing, and snagging a 2021 first-rounder ends up being huge for New Orleans even if one of Davis or Leonard bolts from Toronto.
Forfeiting this much might be an overextension of the Raptors’ gall. Team president Masai Ujiri doesn’t flinch in the face of risk, but mortgaging the future for another could-be goner is a monstrous ask even for someone with carte blanche and total job security.
Counterpoint: Imagine a big picture that includes both Davis and Leonard.
The Pelicans could entice the Raptors by offering to take less. Letting them keep Anunoby or Wright is a calculated concession. They’re taking a hit now, but it’ll be worth the pain if Toronto’s 2021 pick is on the table.