Anthony Davis , and it suddenly feels like this is all that matters in the world of professional basketball. Paul George at the apex of his game, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a win against the team with the best record in the NBA? Luka Doncic, utterly unfazed in a duel with Kawhi Leonard, producing 35 points, 10 assists and 12 rebounds in a near upset? This stuff was captivating on Sunday, but as of Monday, neither event seems all that significant.
With a Davis trade, the whole landscape of the league could change. Five thoughts:
1. The Lakers must act now … right?
There will be people who say that Rich Paul's decision to go public with this right now is about getting Davis to Los Angeles. Regardless of whether or not that is true, here are the facts: The Boston Celtics can't trade for Davis until the summer, unless they include Kyrie Irving in the deal, which, hahaha. The Lakers are ninth in the West, having slipped in the standings since LeBron James' Christmas Day groin injury. New Orleans Pelicans fans have been mentally preparing themselves for the possibility of watching Brandon Ingram and/or Lonzo Ball and/or Kyle Kuzma and/or Josh Hart on a regular basis for some time.
It is not clear that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka will be able to outdo every other offer that the Pelicans receive in the next week and a half. Personally, I am skeptical that they can pull this off. It is imperative, though, that Los Angeles doesn't mess around here. If Ball, Kuzma, Ivica Zubac and a pick is really the starting point for a deal, do that deal yesterday. It's Anthony Davis! The tricky part is what happens if New Orleans drives a hard bargain.
The Lakers know that it will be almost impossible for them to win a bidding war in the offseason. It is easy, then, to say that they should go all-in right now. What, exactly, does "all-in" look like, though? Let's try a thought experiment, in which they give the Pelicans the best possible deal without including LeBron:
- Lakers get: Davis, Solomon Hill's huge contract, Darius Miller, Tim Frazier, Ian Clark, Kenrich Williams
- Pelicans get: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lance Stephenson, Moe Wagner, Los Angeles' 2019 first-round pick, Los Angeles' 2020 second-round pick, Los Angeles' 2021 first-round pick, Los Angeles' 2022 second-round pick, Los Angeles' 2023 first-round pick, the right to swap first-round picks with Los Angeles in 2020, 2022 and 2024
This totally bonkers deal is totally legal, although it would require New Orleans to clear two roster spots. It is also not going to happen. The point is that it is easy to say that Los Angeles should put "everything" on the table for Davis; it is harder to pinpoint how far the front office should go. This isn't only about how much the Lakers (and the Pelicans) value their young players; it is about how appealing and likely their backup plans are. Staying flexible, keeping their young guys and signing a big name in free agency is still possible, even if that big name is not Davis.
2. So, uh, what about Boston? Will the Pelicans have the stomach to wait?
The Celtics have the best collection of young players to offer, plus a killer Memphis Grizzlies pick, but if they can't convince New Orleans to wait until July, they could lose out. Timing is everything.
Fortunately for Boston, though, there might not be much incentive for the Pelicans to speed this process up. They have Davis under contract next season, and even if they don't end up with Jayson Tatum in the end, a bidding war that involves the Celtics would be better than a bidding war that doesn't. The big question here is whether or not the organization cares about the remainder of the season being awkward.
A related question: Does New Orleans' ownership have any idea where the franchise is going? No one seems to know if general manager Dell Demps will be in charge at the end of the season. If he won't be, then why would the organization empower him to execute a trade of this magnitude? Boston's best hope might be that the Pelicans are too messy to figure out what they want and they decide to reset the whole operation in a few months, letting the new boss start his tenure by finding a sensible Davis deal.
3. Let's talk about dark horses!
No one initially thought Leonard would land in Toronto or George would land in Oklahoma City. All 29 teams who do not employ Davis will at least call New Orleans about him, even the ones who don't appear to have a realistic path to a trade. Some of those conversations could get serious. I realize some of these hypotheticals are a little crazy, but here's what's on my mind:
- The Houston Rockets always at least take a shot in these situations, and I wonder how much the Pelicans value Clint Capela, who is 24 was just re-signed to a five-year deal. New Orleans could theoretically acquire Capela and Eric Gordon, and then try to flip Gordon to a team that is in win-now mode.
- Given how deep they are, the Denver Nuggets are exactly the type of team that should be looking to consolidate talent. I don't think the Pelicans would be thrilled about a deal headlined by Gary Harris, but that's presumably where Denver would start. I am laughing just thinking about Davis playing on the same team as Nikola Jokic.
- Imagine if Davis ended up joining the Portland Trail Blazers, who he dominated in the playoffs last season. Portland could potentially put C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic on the table and take the Hill contract off New Orleans' hands. Things get interesting if it puts Zach Collins in the deal, too. The risk, obviously, is that Davis could walk, but I bet he'd love playing with a leader like Damian Lillard. (And, you know, scared money don't make none.)
- Could New Orleans go for a deal headlined by Kristaps Porzingis? He is coming off a torn ACL, but is still 23 and has looked like a potential franchise player at his best. If the Knicks could acquire Davis without compromising their ability to chase Kevin Durant this summer, oh my goodness.
- I keep thinking about the Clippers, despite the fact that they don't appear to have the young players and picks that the Pelicans should want. Are we absolutely sure that New Orleans is going to do the "smart" thing, or is it possible that they could do something similar to what the Spurs did with Leonard? When the Pelicans were in this position with Chris Paul, Demps' front office initially wanted to trade him for Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and Luis Scola -- Dragic, 24 at the time and heading into his fourth season, was the only non-veteran they would have received. With this in mind, perhaps New Orleans would go for a package where Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the only real prospect -- the Clippers could take the Hill contract and send back some combination of their many productive vets. Both Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari are having All-Star-caliber seasons, by the way.
4. What if the Pelicans really want Zion?
Another argument for waiting this out: We do not know who is picking first in the upcoming draft. The cleanest way to trade Davis would be to immediately hand the keys to the franchise to Zion Williamson, so perhaps the Pelicans should be targeting him right now.
If the Knicks win the lottery, would they part with Porzingis and the top pick for Davis? If they knew that Davis' presence would lure Durant, that would be perfectly rational. Would Davis' hometown Bulls have a chance of signing him to an extension? If so, then a deal built around the top pick and one of their young bigs -- Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter -- might actually make sense. Let's get weird!
5. There could be short-term ripple effects in New Orleans
If -- and this is a big if -- the Pelicans have decided to undergo a full-fledged rebuild, then they might as well start the fire sale. A Jrue Holiday trade kickstarted a teardown once before, and he would certainly have value if he was made available. Beyond that, why not find out who wants to rent Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton for the stretch run? Jahlil Okafor has been doing stuff lately, and any team that trades for him would have the option to keep him around on the cheap next season -- maybe he could fetch a second-round pick.
In terms of the immediate future, the biggest consequence of Davis' trade request might have little to do how his situation plays out, but what New Orleans does before he goes anywhere. There is no longer any justification for the Pelicans being buyers at the deadline in an effort to convince him to stay, and that kind of clarity is good. As awful as must feel to accept that this era has failed, they have no other choice.