Anthony Davis and the reality of trade speculation for superstars on lottery teams

Ball Don't Lie
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5007/" data-ylk="slk:Anthony Davis">Anthony Davis</a> is comfortable in (on?) New Orleans. (AP)
Anthony Davis is comfortable in (on?) New Orleans. (AP)

The Boston Celtics have an endless array of assets they’ve been hoarding for just the right player. Since Anthony Davis is the NBA’s next potentially disgruntled star, naturally the blogosphere connects the dots for them. The byproduct is an internet search that returns in excess of a million results.

Most of those are based purely on speculation. A larger number feature some sort of spin on The Vertical’s Chris Mannix seemingly stating the obvious last month: “Rival executives expect Boston to be keeping close tabs on New Orleans, which is entering a critical season. The Pelicans are committed to seeing if an Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins frontcourt can work, but if the season goes awry, it’s widely believed the Celtics will make a strong run at Davis, who is under contract through 2020-21.”

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Because of course Boston would want Davis if he becomes available. So would every other team, especially those with a cache of recent and future first-round picks to offer in return. Resulting headlines around the inter-webs ranged from “Boston Celtics trying to trade for Anthony Davis” to “What should the Celtics give up for Anthony Davis” and, yes, even “Anthony Davis blockbuster not best path for Celtics.”

This is the reality of modern NBA media, especially in the offseason, when we mold every morsel of information into a batch of tasty takes that occasionally come out half-baked on the other end. I like my takes fully baked, but I can be guilty of it myself when the timer on the news cycle is running out.

If you’re a budding superstar, and your team is perennially in the lottery, it’s only a matter of time before opposing teams start inquiring about your availability, and before those inquiries start making headlines. Davis offered some fascinating insight into the other side of those relatively benign reports and rumors this week, detailing to The Times-Picayune how those endless headlines even led him astray.

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The 24-year-old four-time All-Star said he heard his name linked with Boston so much, including when several basketball campers asked him about it this summer, that he had to ask his agent and New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps for reassurance that the team wasn’t planning to deal him anytime soon.

“Once I first heard (the rumors), then I heard it again, then I heard it again, I just wanted to make sure,” Davis told The Times-Picayune’s William Guillory. “I found out it wasn’t (true), and that was the beginning of the summer, so I haven’t paid attention to it since.”

The Pelicans, for their part, assured Davis “there was nothing to worry about,” according to Guillory.

Maybe this is all just a natural part of the process now. If you saw your significant other’s name tied to several other people every day on the internet, you’d probably ask them about it, too.

But why would New Orleans consider trading a guy who, if the entire league were re-drafted today, might go first overall, based on age and ability? Davis averaged 28 points and 12 rebounds per game last season, he is signed for the next four years — through 2021 — and if the partnership with DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t work this season, the Pelicans can just let Boogie walk in free agency at the end of the year.

It is true that Davis could fetch a hefty trade package — maybe the heftiest of trade packages — if New Orleans decides to rebuild. Boston could offer, as Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck theorized last month, something like two future potential top-five picks and 2017 No. 3 overall choice Jayson Tatum this season, but there’s still no guarantee anybody the Pelicans get in return for Davis would come close to equal value. In short: If you’re rebuilding, the best place to start is with a 24-year-old superstar locked up for the next four years.

It’s interesting that it was Davis who approached the Pelicans about these rumors, because the reality is that he will likely have more say about whether he stays in New Orleans than the team does.

Even if Cousins walks in free agency, the Pelicans will have more than 85 percent of their salary cap committed to Davis, Jrue Holiday, Solomon Hill, Omer Asik and E’Twaun Moore through 2019-20 — the season prior to Davis’ free agency. Whether by injury or ineptness, Demps and coach Alvin Gentry have struggled to build a consistent winner around the former No. 1 pick, and yet, after missing the playoffs for a second straight year, the team rewarded both with another year on the job.

Things could change this season. The team will have a full training camp to integrate Cousins alongside Davis in a potentially devastating frontcourt combination. New nine-figure-man Holiday projects to be healthy for the start of the season for the first time since 2014, and the Pelicans added veteran point guard Rajon Rondo and underrated Golden State Warriors sub Ian Clark for short money this summer.

On paper, a starting lineup featuring four former All-Stars — Rondo, Holiday, Cousins and Davis — is an intriguing foundation. On a spreadsheet, the lack of wing depth and shooters to space the floor for Rondo, Cousins and Davis to operate is a concern. And in reality, Cousins, Rondo and reserve shooting guard Jordan Crawford — three of the NBA’s most unpredictable players — at least make a nightmare scenario possible.

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For his part, Davis is projecting confidence that this year’s team is enough to keep him content in New Orleans. “I am happy here as a Pelican. I am happy here,” he said, adding, via The Times-Picayune:

“I don’t really care what anybody says,” Davis said. “We know what we’re doing. Especially having an entire training camp with me, DeMarcus and Jrue and Rondo. … We feel like we have a shot against anybody, that’s our mindset coming in. We’re not worrying about all the white noise and what other people are saying.”


“That’s what we’re expecting,” he said of making the playoffs. “Is it enough? We won’t know until the season’s over. But we definitely believe we have enough pieces on paper to make the playoffs. Not just make it, but actually make a run in the playoffs.”

And if the Pelicans don’t live up to expectations again, if the Davis-Cousins experiment fails, if the lottery appearances pile up as those four seasons under contract become three and two, if the trade reports and rumors gather steam and doubt really creeps in, then Davis will have far more control of his future. Like so many All-Stars before him, including one in Cleveland right now, he could begin to wonder what NBA life would be like elsewhere — on a contender, even — and he might push for one of those rumors to become true by threatening to leave for nothing in return in 2021.

But now I’m just speculating again. Is it October yet?

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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