Every team in the NBA will call the New Orleans Pelicans now that superstar Anthony Davis has requested a trade. Pelicans general manager Dell Demps will hang on the line a little longer for a handful of teams, and the bidding war between the best suitors should drive the price sky-high.
Several chess moves between now and whenever the Pelicans grant his request will help determine which teams can bend Demps’ ear and just how high the price will reach. Davis has reportedly not given New Orleans a list of preferred trade destinations, which for now gives every team a seat at the table, but that could change if his agent begins informing teams that Davis will not re-sign with them.
The timing of a deal also impacts the return for New Orleans. Waiting until the draft in June lets Demps know exactly where any 2019 first-round pick(s) coming back his way would fall, and waiting until free agency in July allows the asset-heavy Boston Celtics to join the fray. (No team can acquire two players on Rose Rule rookie contract extensions, so the Celtics cannot pair Davis with Kyrie Irving until July 1. The two teams, however, can agree on the framework of a trade prior to that date.)
Given the factors that go into a trade for a player of his magnitude — the right collection of young talent and draft picks, ability to contend for championships, salary cap situation and location (apologies to small-market teams everywhere) — there are probably five early favorites to land Davis.
Here’s what they might offer …
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The offer: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Ivica Zubac, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and two unprotected first-round picks (2019 and 2021)
Well-sourced Los Angeles Times beat reporter Broderick Turner reported that Ball, Zubac, Kyle Kuzma and a single first-round pick form the starting framework of any Davis deal involving the Lakers, but it is unclear whether the Lakers or Pelicans believe that is the starting framework for such a deal.
It is hard to believe New Orleans would be swayed by any package that does not include at least two of Ingram, Ball and Kuzma, if not all three. Zubac may have totaled 24 points and 16 rebounds against the lowly Phoenix Suns on Sunday, but any player beyond Ingram, Ball and Kuzma is really just filler.
Even those players have yet to prove they can rebuild a team on their own, finishing sub-.500 last season and 6-10 without LeBron James this season. Neither Ingram nor Ball have lived up to the hype of their No. 2 pick status, but both have shown flashes of great potential before their 22nd birthdays.
Working in the Lakers’ favor are increasing ties between Davis and LeBron. Davis fired his longtime agent to hire LeBron’s agent and friend, Rich Paul. LeBron made clear his desire to play with Davis, and the two dined together in mid-December, shortly before the NBA issued an anti-tampering memo. Should Davis want to play in L.A., Paul could inform every other team of his client’s unwillingness to re-sign when his current contract is up in 2020, severely limiting New Orleans’ non-Lakers options.
2. Boston Celtics
The offer: Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams III and 2019 first-round picks from the Sacramento Kings (top-one protected) and Memphis Grizzlies (top-eight protected)
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge’s long-held interest in Davis is no secret. Every move Ainge has made in recent years has seemingly been done with the possibility of landing the 25-year-old superstar in mind, and Boston has checked in with New Orleans every so often to no avail.
Now that Davis has requested a trade, you can bet Ainge will do whatever it takes to pair Davis with Irving, especially if that means keeping him away from LeBron and the Lakers. Tatum is better than any asset the Lakers can offer, and the Celtics own two likely lottery picks to L.A.’s none (assuming Davis and LeBron form the core of a team that will make the playoffs for the next three years). The Celtics can even sweeten this deal, swapping Jaylen Brown in for Smart or just adding him to it.
The Celtics should be relieved to hear early reports that neither the Pelicans nor Paul are intent on Davis being dealt before the Feb. 7 trade deadline, which would open the door for Boston. Still, every other team will spend the next 10 days making Godfather offers to Demps before Ainge enters the fray.
3. New York Knicks
The offer: Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr. and the No. 1 overall pick
This, of course, presumes the Knicks land the No. 1 pick. They are currently tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers with a league-low 10 wins, which would give them 14 percent odds at their first top pick since former NBA commissioner picked a frozen envelope from the drum in 1985. (Just kidding.)
Drafted ninth this past June, Knox has flashed enough potential to believe he is a future foundational player. Ntilikina and Hardaway are questionable assets, but they have respectively shown enough on defense and offense to believe they can be building blocks, too. But the real prize is that top pick.
Zion Williamson is potentially the next Davis, and acquiring him under New Orleans’ control until he requests a trade with a year left on his rookie extension could save the franchise until the mid-2020s. The promise of another generational talent might just outweigh any other offer out there, which would potentially loop any other team that lands it onto this list (hi, Davis’ hometown Chicago Bulls).
And, if that’s not enough, the Knicks can add Kristaps Porzingis to sweeten any trade offer.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Davis prefers a “first-class organization,” which would presumably eliminate the Knicks from this list, but the allure of New York will forever beckon. The Knicks can create enough cap space this coming summer to add another max contracted free agent, and if that player’s name is Kevin Durant, they just might be able to convince Davis to re-sign.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
The offer: Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Wilson Chandler and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick
Simmons has future MVP potential, and he may be more valuable than any other existing NBA player that would change hands in this deal. Fultz is not a great asset on his own, but he is a 20-year-old recent No. 1 overall pick who could swing this deal in New Orleans’ favor if he ever regains his health. Chandler is just salary filler, and Miami’s pick holds lottery possibilities in a couple years.
As our own Chris Haynes reported, the fact that Davis and Simmons share Paul as an agent complicates matters. Swapping one for the other could leave New Orleans with another unhappy star who will request a trade in short order. That, along with the fact that Simmons’ talent requires other stars to maximize his potential, makes a deal with Philadelphia a high-risk, high-reward one.
5. Toronto Raptors
The offer: Pascal Siakam, OG Aunoby, Delon Wright, Jonas Valanciunas and a 2021 first-round pick
In just his third season, Siakam has shined as the third option in Toronto, so much so that he is a borderline All-Star already, and handing him his own team might allow him to further flourish. Likewise, Anunoby and Wright have formed the core of one of the league’s best benches for two years running, and there is intrigue about what they might be capable of in larger roles. As far as salary filler goes, Valanciunas — an ever-improving 26-year-old center with years of playoff experience — is good.
None of these players is as intriguing as Tatum, Simmons or Williamson — and possibly even Ingram — but they all might be a tier below the sort of star who requests out of New Orleans, which is maybe just what the small-market Pelicans really need to avoid this happening again. That or they need to find a new general manager who can build a talented enough team to support the next superstar.
We at least know Toronto GM Masai Ujiri is willing to pull the trigger for a star without any assurances he will re-sign, and that might be what the Pelicans need if Davis’ camp starts trying to ward off teams outside L.A. The Lakers did not pull the trigger on deals for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but you can bet they will be all in for Davis. The only question now is whether Davis even wants to play in L.A. and how much orchestrating Paul and LeBron and are willing to do in order to ensure he gets there.
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