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Anthony Davis requested a trade when the team that might be willing and able to offer the best package for him – the Celtics – effectively can’t deal for him. Davis and Kyrie Irving are both designated rookie scale players, and a team can have only one of those acquired via trade at a time. Irving will sign a new contract this offseason, which will allow Boston to pair the two then.
In the meantime, the Pelicans are left in an awkward position – especially if they wait for the Celtics.
What if no team before the trade deadline bests the offer New Orleans expects from Boston? How will Davis and the Pelicans handle the rest of the season together?
Marc Stein of The York Times:
It has not been definitively decided that Anthony Davis has played his last game for the Pelicans, according to one source close to the situation. But the source said it is a scenario under consideration in the event New Orleans does not move Davis before next Thursday's deadline
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) January 31, 2019
This would be such a shame. Davis is having one of the NBA’s top individual seasons. His injured finger should heal soon. A superstar being a healthy scratch for more than two months would be a black mark for the league.
It’d also be tough to assign a majority of the blame to any side.
Davis created this mess by requesting a trade, but that was his right. (Making the trade request public is what got him fined.) I don’t blame him for wanting to leave the Pelicans, who’ve consistently failed to build a winner around him. He gave the franchise his all for a long time.
New Orleans didn’t ask for the rule that effectively prevents trading him to the Celtics now. But if the Pelicans believe they’ll get the best offer from Boston, they should wait for it. That means protecting the asset. If Davis got hurt and teams lowered their offers, it could be catastrophic for New Orleans.
That said, the Pelicans are 5.5 games and five teams out of playoff position. They’re a huge longshot to reach the postseason, but they’re at least theoretically in the race. Isn’t trying more satisfying than throwing away the rest of the season? That’d offer hope of another longshot – convincing Davis to change his mind about leaving New Orleans. I’d be shocked if he would, but generational players like him are so hard to acquire. There’s value in chasing the slim chance of winning him over.
There’s also valuing in tanking for a higher draft pick, but that would require other trades before the deadline. With quality veterans like Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic, the Pelicans aren’t positioned to bottom out completely.
Plus, remaining competitive would seemingly draw fans. Or would New Orleans fans resent watching Davis? Jimmy Butler was poorly received for his few games in Minnesota this year. Especially if Davis’ heart isn’t in it, the situation could devolve further. It’s a big unknown.
What’s more clear: Fans across the country want to see Davis play, not spend the rest of the season in exile. In the League Pass era, every game is available to a national audience. Would the league step in to prevent the Pelicans from shutting down Davis?
It’d be an ugly situation in many ways.
One exception: It’d benefit Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. Right now, Towns trails Davis, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic for the three All-NBA center spots. Towns would become favored for the third team if Davis misses the rest of the season. And if Towns makes an All-NBA team this season, his contract extension would be worth a projected $190 million, up from a projected $158 million, over the next five years.