Considered one of the best five players in the NBA, Davis is eligible to sign a five-year, $240 million extension this summer. By informing the Pelicans he will not re-sign, the 25-year-old five-time All-Star is all but forcing New Orleans general manager Dell Demps to deal him or lose him for nothing when his current contract is up in 2020. The only real question now is how quickly the Pelicans will comply.
“Anthony wants to be traded to a team that allows him the chance to win consistently and compete for a championship,” Davis’ agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group, told ESPN. He added, “Anthony wanted to be honest and clear with his intentions and that’s the reason for informing them of this decision now. That’s in the best interests of both Anthony’s and the organization’s future.”
Davis informed teammates of his intention to request a trade prior to the news, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. The Pelicans have lost five of their last six games, falling to 22-28 on the season and 13th in the Western Conference — six games behind the Los Angeles Clippers in eighth.
Davis has missed the last four games after injuring his left index finger against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 18. He is averaging 29.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.6 blocks per game.
“This past weekend, Anthony Davis’ representatives informed us that Anthony does not wish to sign a contract extension with our team and subsequently has requested a trade,” the Pelicans said in a statement to ESPN. “Although we are disappointed in this decision, our organization’s top priority is to bring an NBA championship to our city and fans [and] build our team for long-term success. Relative to specific talks of a trade, we will do this on our timeline. One that make sense for our team and it will not be dictated by those outside of our organization. We have also requested the league to strictly enforce the tampering rules associated with this transaction.”
The slow build to an Anthony Davis bombshell
The news comes as somewhat of a surprise after Davis for years told the public he prefers to win in New Orleans. The Pelicans enjoyed their best campaign of the Davis era last season, sweeping the Blazers to reach the Western Conference semifinals, but Demps has long struggled to build a consistent winner around the generational talent. The Pelicans have missed the playoffs in four of their six seasons since drafting Davis No. 1 overall in 2012, and they are on pace to miss them again.
“I got to play almost perfect every night to give us a chance to win,” Davis told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes in November, making it clear to everyone that he knows full well the burden he is carrying.
The tide did begin to change this past summer, when Davis fired his longtime New Orleans-based agent to hire Paul, the orchestrator of all three of LeBron James’ moves across the league. Future Hall of Famer and fellow Chicago product Kevin Garnett, who was the prototype for so skilled a big man, told Davis that his biggest regret was not requesting a trade from the similarly positioned Minnesota Timberwolves earlier in his career and that the All-NBA forward/center needs to go play with LeBron.
LeBron James’ Lakers play for Davis
LeBron himself told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin in December that it would be “amazing” and “incredible” to play with Davis, leading several small-market general managers to file complaints about tampering. Days later, LeBron and Davis dined together after their game in Los Angeles. The NBA soon issued a memo reminding teams of the league’s anti-tampering rules and warning against repeated offenses.
These ties to LeBron make the Los Angeles Lakers an obvious potential landing spot for Davis, especially since they have a trove of young talent that might make for attractive trade bait (namely Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart), but every team in the NBA will be lining up to land a perennial MVP candidate in his prime, including (reportedly) the Golden State Warriors.
The Celtics are waiting in the wings
Complicating matters is the fact that the Boston Celtics, who may well have the best package of assets to offer, cannot complete a trade for Davis as currently constructed. Like Davis, Celtics star Kyrie Irving is on a Rose Rule rookie contract extension, and no team can acquire two players with that deal in place. That changes in July, when Irving becomes a free agent and the Celtics can offer any number of young stalwarts (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to name a pair) and a cache of picks for Davis.
The NBA’s trade deadline is two weeks away, on Feb. 7, offering other teams an opportunity to deal for Davis before Boston gets involved. The Pelicans have “expressed no desire” to deal Davis prior to the deadline, according to Wojnarowski. In addition to delaying until the Celtics can up the ante, New Orleans is wise to wait beyond the deadline for the June draft, when the lottery is sorted out and Demps will know exactly where some of the draft picks he can acquire in return will fall. The Pelicans can agree to a trade prior to the onset of free agency on July 1 and complete the deal thereafter.
Davis, Pelicans now in a waiting game
Asked if the Pelicans would honor Davis’ request by the trade deadline, Paul told The New York Times’ Marc Stein, “They haven’t said much, but we wanted to do the right thing to let them know by the deadline so they could do what’s best for the organization going forward.” Paul told Stein that they have not given the Pelicans a list of preferred destinations. New Orleans is free to trade him anywhere, but Davis, who will be a free agent in 2020, can significantly impact the offers the Pelicans receive by informing potential suitors of his intent to re-sign or not. In other words, the game is afoot.
If the Pelicans choose to wait, they face a crossroads with Davis, the player coach Alvin Gentry said in October they “wouldn’t trade for anyone in the league or out of the league. Not even Beyoncé.” Davis could attempt to force their hand by sitting out with his finger injury for longer than anticipated. Likewise, the Pelicans might decide they are better off shelving Davis and increasing their own lottery odds in an attempt to speed up the rebuilding process. The future of the franchise may hinge on this trade, as the Pelicans have struggled to fill seats even with one of the NBA’s best players in town.
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