ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped one of his biggest bombs to date on Monday morning when he reported that Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis wants out of New Orleans. His agent Rich Paul reportedly told the Pelicans that Davis is requesting a trade and has no intention of re-signing with the team in 2020.
Davis, who is currently out with a finger injury, is averaging a career-high 29.3 points and 13.3 rebounds this season. He’s been named an All-Star in each of the last five seasons and has been an All-NBA First Team member three of the last four seasons. He’s one of the most valuable trade chips in the NBA at just 25 years old and will command a steep price for whichever team wants to deal for him.
Wojnarowski reported that Davis wants to play for a winner after suffering through five losing seasons and just one playoff series win in New Orleans.
Before getting into trade packages and which teams can offer the Pelicans the most, it’s important to understand this: the Pelicans are only trading Davis to a team that he will sign an extension with, because it’s an almost guarantee that no team is trading for Davis without a long-term commitment from the 25-year-old. Davis is eligible to sign a five-year, $240 million extension this summer.
This isn’t the Timberwolves trading for Jimmy Butler or the Thunder trading for Paul George or the Raptors trading for Kawhi Leonard. Given the assets that will be needed to acquire one of the game’s best players just about to enter his prime, it’s incredibly unlikely a franchise is going to package together their most valuable assets just to see Davis leave in free agency in the summer of 2020.
Because of that, the leader for Davis’ services right now has to be the Los Angeles Lakers. For starters, Davis wants to win and the Lakers employ LeBron James. Davis and James share an agent in Rich Paul, which makes the courtship even more likely. What’s more, the Lakers have been stockpiling young assets the last five seasons, and while none of them are can’t miss, home run prospects, they’re certainly good enough to entice New Orleans.
A combination of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac and Brandon Ingram would be a starter in any deal, and the Lakers also have all future draft picks, for whatever that’s worth.
Next in line is the Celtics, a team that was hoping these trade discussions would stay dormant until the summer. That’s when Kyrie Irving can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. Both Irving and Davis signed their current contracts under the Rose Rule, named after Derrick Rose hat allows a player to make 30 percent of a team’s salary cap if he’s a two-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA player or an MVP. Teams are only allowed to have one “Rose Rule” contract, meaning Irving and Davis can’t play for the same team this season. Put a different way: any deal between the Celtics and Pelicans before July 1 would need to include Irving, and that seems highly unlikely to happen.
If the Pelicans do stand their ground and wait until the offseason, Boston’s surplus of young assets would be enticing. Jayson Tatum has future All-Star written all over him, while Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and, to a lesser degree, Robert Williams and Semi Ojeleye are potential pieces.
The real kicker is Boston’s embarrassment of draft picks: the Celtics have three first round picks in the 2019 NBA Draft (their own, Sacramento’s and the Clippers’) and a future first round pick from Memphis that is top-8 protected this year, top-6 protected in 2020 and unprotected in 2021. With the Grizzlies about to enter a rebuild that pick could be among the highest in 2021, when high-school prospects may be able to bypass college and enter the league, creating a Super-Draft.
Then there’s the Bulls. Any deal for Davis begins with Lauri Markkanen, by far the Bulls’ best asset. Beyond him, their 2019 draft pick could yield a franchise-changing player in Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett. That’s why the Bulls should also be hoping that no deal gets done before the Feb. 7 trade deadline; the Bulls’ offer gets substantially better on May 14 when the Draft Lottery occurs (or worse if the ping pong balls bounce the wrong way).
Beyond that, Wendell Carter Jr., Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn are also potential pieces to include in the deal. The Pelicans could have their choice of going super young with Carter included in the deal, or taking a more sure bet in LaVine to pair with Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. Dunn has had his struggles in Chicago but is still three years removed from being a top-5 pick. Either way, they’re the smaller pieces of a potential deal after Markkanen and the 2019 first-round pick.
But remember that small caveat? That Davis is only going to sign an extension with a team he feels he can win a title? That could be a real issue. Aside from the fact that Davis reportedly has no desire to play in Chicago, whatever package the Bulls put together is going to decimate their roster. They’ve won 11 games this season and just finished off a week in which they lost to the Hawks and Cavaliers at home.
Yes, they have intriguing young pieces who could form a nice core. But their supporting cast is one of the weakest and shallowest in the league; dealing for Davis while including a combination of Markkanen, Carter and LaVine (plus the 2019 first round pick) guts the Bulls roster. It turns them into the current Pelicans team, middling below .500, lost without Davis in the lineup and going nowhere fast. There’s little reason for Davis to believe the Bulls would be capable of building the same kind of winner he’d find in L.A. with LeBron or in Boston with a perennial winner and one of the game’s best head coach.
Because of all that, despite what the Bulls could potentially offer in a deal, it’s unlikely it happens. There’s always a chance that John Paxson and Gar Forman decide to roll the dice and deal for Davis without the guarantee that he re-signs.
But even that feels a little too far-fetched, especially after they watched that same strategy backfire from the other side of the fence two years ago with the Timberwolves and Jimmy Butler. The assets needed to deal for Davis would be even larger, meaning the loss would be even greater if the Chicago native walked and the Bulls were forced to sell for fewer cents on the dollar than they acquired him for.