It’s hard to imagine any team not wanting to add Anthony Davis onto their roster, but the Boston Celtics have been particularly steadfast in their pursuit of the New Orleans Pelicans superstar.
Maybe it’s no coincidence, then, that Davis had Boston on his brain in his recent conversation with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. As the losses have mounted in his five-plus seasons on the Pelicans, the four-time All-Star’s only goal now is to win, and while Davis would prefer to do so in New Orleans, he understands that trades are part of the business. So it was that the Celtics came up … twice.
First, in the context of super-teams and the difficulty of carrying a roster without as much depth:
“You look at the Warriors, Cleveland, Boston,” Davis told Wojnarowski. “They lose Gordon [Hayward], they’re still playing well. KD-Steph-Draymond-Klay. They play so well with each other. They move the basketball. They don’t care who scores. Steph and Draymond are out, and they still won. KD is out. They still win.
“That’s the way the league is now. I don’t see anyone winning without three or four All-Stars. … I was in the [MVP] conversation in my third year, and we didn’t win. We went to the playoffs, got swept, and I dropped out of all that so fast. It’s about winning. You can have all the numbers in the world, but you better win. That’s what it is. This whole league, everything is about winning. Every award. Everything. It’s all about winning.”
Then, as it pertained to persistent rumors of Boston’s pursuit, which resulted in Davis and his agent confronting Pelicans GM Dell Demps, who assured him the interest in a trade was only one-sided:
“He told me that [Boston] was calling, but nothing was going to happen,” added Davis. “At the same time, though, you see how organizations treat players. Isaiah Thomas. DeMarcus [Cousins] told me that the [Kings] told him that he wasn’t going to get traded, but they traded him. Isaiah took his team to the Eastern Conference finals, and they traded him.
“It makes you wonder: Does this organization really have my back? I’ve been loyal to this organization. I love it here. I love this team. I think we’re moving in the right direction. DeMarcus, Rondo, some other players that are helping us, but people get judged on winning. And I want to win.
“It’s not about the money. It’s not about having fans. The most important thing to me: winning. That’s what I want to do. And I want to do it here.”
That’s a little more to unpack than when a kid at his summer basketball camp asked him about the Celtics’ interest, Davis quelled the rumors, and that was that. “I am happy here as a Pelican,” he said.
This latest bit with Wojnarowski shows that Davis is closely monitoring the trajectory of the league and considers Boston in a similar vein to Golden State and Cleveland — the two teams that have met in the Finals each of the past three years. It also shows that he doesn’t have complete trust in Demps, oddly enough, because the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving this past summer.
Of course, it would be hard for anyone not to see what happened with the Celtics over the past few months, since Gordon Hayward was arguably the NBA’s biggest name to change teams in free agency, the Irving drama was the league’s most dominant storyline of the summer, and the Celtics have run out to the Eastern Conference’s best record despite Hayward’s horrific injury on opening night. So, it could just be that those are the examples anyone would use when discussing loyalty in the NBA.
But Boston isn’t going away, and the clock is ticking on Davis’ win-now goal in New Orleans.
The Celtics have a cache of draft picks, tradable contracts and talented young players, including recent No. 3 overall picks Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, all of which would make for a nice package should the Pelicans ever decide to deal Davis and make for a nice super-team landing for the star.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans are locked into contracts that make it awfully difficult for them to become anything more enticing than what they are now — a .500 team battling for a low playoff seed in a Western Conference stacked with top-heavy teams. They are locked into a core of Davis, Jrue Holiday, Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore and Omer Asik for $88 million in 2019-20. And if they re-sign Cousins this summer, which they absolutely must do to keep Davis content and remain relevant, they’re locked into the Davis-Holiday-Cousins trio for a similar price tag in 2020-21, the final year of Davis’ contract.
So, while it’s true that the Pelicans have Davis under contract for three more years after this, we’ve seen stars orchestrate exit strategies earlier and earlier in their contracts. (Cough, Irving, cough.)
The question then would be what the Celtics would have to give up to get Davis. Would it only take Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, multiple lottery picks and contract filler? Or would New Orleans demand Tatum, Brown and multiple picks? Or one of Boston’s two young stars, picks and an existing Celtics star? The super-team dreams get a little more complicated here, but any combination of Irving, Davis, Hayward and Tatum or Brown (all 27 and under) would be a formidable force for years.
If the Pelicans and Davis are to part ways in 2021, New Orleans would maximize its return the earlier it begins to shop him. In 2018, with three years left on his deal, they could get a substantial package, and make no mistake — some combination of Tatum, Brown, picks and players will be tough to top. But the offers will only decrease in value the closer Davis gets to free agency, especially if Tatum, Brown and whatever lottery pick comes next develop into the stars Boston imagines them to be.
This may all just be an exercise in futility, but since Davis twice brought up the Celtics in connection with his future, he didn’t do himself any favors quieting the rumor mill, because Boston is lurking.
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