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Anthony Davis: “It’s just about winning for me, being the most dominant player in the league”

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Anthony Davis is a top three player in the NBA — and he would be the first to tell you that ranking is too low.

Most people (myself included) would have Kevin Durant and LeBron James ahead of Davis on the list. Why? Because they have done it longer, and their otherworldly gifts and work have lifted their teams to titles. Davis is elite on both ends, but his team has made the playoffs just twice in the past six seasons (something not wholly, or mostly, his fault) and last season was the first time Davis and his Pelicans made it out of the first round of the playoffs.

Davis is tired of waiting around to win and to be the best player — he wants his time to be now, he told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.

Two big topics came up in the interview, let’s get to the one most of you readers care about first.

There are 29 teams preparing themselves for if the Pelicans make Davis available via a trade, and after that when he would become a free agent (the summer of 2020). This summer, Davis switched agents to Rich Paul, LeBron’s agent, which sparked a lot of rumors. Davis went to the expected place of “I ignore all that stuff” when asked about it.

“I think that’s a big part. Winning definitely helps everything, helps with your legacy, helps [you] be on the top of the list. But going to the playoffs every three years doesn’t help my case. At this point, it’s just about winning for me, being the most dominant player in the league, and whenever that time comes, I have a great team behind me that advise me on some decisions but my focus is on this year…

“You hear it everywhere, it’s funny, how did [the Lakers rumors] even happen? How does that correlate? You know, in my head, I don’t pay attention to it, I keep going back to it but it’s the truth, I look at what I have now and what I can do now and that’s helping my team win. You can’t listen to what somebody else is saying, all the white noise, ‘AD’s going here, AD’s going here,’ — AD’s playing for the Pelicans this year… the rest will take care of itself.”

How did the Lakers’ rumor start? You hired LeBron’s agent. Even before that, right now the Lakers are big game hunting, so their name is going to come up with every free agent superstar, even if it’s not going to happen (*cough, Kevin Durant, cough*).

What I’ve heard from sources is the Pelicans are not trading Davis anytime soon, they are going all in to win with Davis this season and then, next summer, will slap the five-year, $230 million designated player veteran extension in front of him and dare him to say no. You don’t switch agents to Rich Paul if the plan is to automatically sign whatever is put in front of you, but that is A LOT of money to walk away from, and we shouldn’t just assume Davis will. It’s more than $30 million more than Davis can make if he forces a trade to another team and they re-sign him at the max, and if in 2020 he jumps teams as a free agent he leaves $84 million guaranteed on the table. Again, that’s a lot of money, even for rich NBA players. The Pelicans are right not to move to trade him unless next summer Davis says he will not re-sign with them and to trade him while they can. So hit pause on your trade machine efforts for now.

The other key thing out of this interview: Davis wants to be seen as the NBA’s best player. Today.

“Honestly, I see myself as the best player in the league, most dominant player in the league. I just think it’s time for that step, you only get a short window, I don’t want that window to close so I think my time is now.”

Um… LeBron and KD?

“Those two are great players, I bring something unique to the table. My game is different from both of those guys, both ends of the floor. MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate so that’s why I feel like my name should be at the top of the list.”

Maybe he should be. He’s my prediction for MVP this season. He’s right there.

But ultimately, winning is part of the equation. Davis knows that, and he thirsts to win. Which makes the entire first part of this conversation more intriguing.

Pacers’ Myles Turner fined $15,000 for flipping bird at Sixers fans

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Myles Turner had to know this was coming.

Frustrated after fouling Joel Embiid under the basket and being taken out of the game, the Pacers’ big man flipped off some Sixers fans as he walked to the bench.

Saturday the league announced Turner was fined $15,000 for “making an inappropriate gesture toward the spectator stands.” The league, understandably, is not a fan of its players flipping off fans.

That fine is pretty much the going rate for these kinds of incidences.

Embiid went on to score 40 Friday night in a dominant performance, but the Pacers won the game 113-101.

Why are Lakers saving their young core? Reportedly to chase Anthony Davis.

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Anthony Davis is the target at the top of the Lakers’ wish list.

He’s also at the top of the wish list for the Boston Celtics and about 27 other teams, too. But if Davis is put on the trade block — something that is not likely until this summer, New Orleans is working to keep him — the Lakers and Celtics will be at the front of the line.

Which is why, when reports that the Lakers would not include any of their young core in a trade for Trevor Ariza came out, it fit with the Lakers’ long-term thinking. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN discussed this on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“Here’s the line [the Lakers] have to walk: they’re not going to give away picks and their top young players in some deal that makes them incrementally better this season because they have to save all those assets for Anthony Davis, a big trade this summer either pre or post free agency…

“The absolute dream scenario, people talk about (how) they can trade for Anthony Davis or sign a free agent. The dream scenario is they do both.”

The dream is to sign Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant and get Davis, and while that dream may be a long shot the only chance they have is if they still have their core players to throw in a package.

The larger point also is valid — the Lakers are not going to beat the Warriors come the playoffs this season (assuming the Warriors are healthy) and L.A. should keep its powder dry for bigger battles. And Davis will be the biggest of battles.

New Orleans wants to keep Davis, they are actively trying to be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers. Sources have told me the Pelicans’ plan is to win as much as possible this season and show Davis they are serious, then come July 1 offer Davis a designated veteran contract extension worth $230 million (or a little more, depending upon the cap). It’s roughly $40 million more than any other team can offer guaranteed. If Davis and his agent Rich Paul — the same agent as LeBron James — turn down that contract then the Pelicans will be forced to consider a trade.

If we get to that point, then all bets are off and the Lakers are all in. Until then, the Lakers are wise just to be patient.

Despite fast start in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard reportedly still eyeing return to Los Angeles

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The Toronto Raptors are making their case to Kawhi Leonard this season — Toronto is 23-8, in first place in the East by 2.5 games, and look like a real threat to make the NBA Finals. Leonard, averaging 26.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, is a guy who has returned to the MVP conversation.

Still, the Raptors don’t know if he’s staying, or what he’s thinking, because Leonard doesn’t talk about it in a meaningful way.

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard told NBC Sports of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Nothing he’s done has slowed the speculation and buzz about what Leonard will do as a free agent next summer… which Leonard is working to ignore.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before the Raptors faced the Clippers last week. “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

A lot of the speculation around the league has remained that Leonard is headed back to Los Angeles next summer, most likely with the Clippers. Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said Adrian Wojnarowski. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said about the weather. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Clippers president Lawrence Frank and other Clippers executives have been a fixture at Raptors games this season, doing their part to recruit him early. They are going to make a strong play for him. So will the Lakers, although I have heard from multiple sources he’s not likely to play with LeBron and in that spotlight.

Nobody knows what Leonard will do next summer, or even what he’s thinking. Leonard doesn’t speak much, and when he does it’s in cautious cliches providing little if any insight. As long as that is the case, the speculation will continue.

Why didn’t Lakers trade for Trevor Ariza? Suns owner reportedly blocked it.

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There were eight teams (that we know of) having some level of contact with Phoenix about getting in on a Trevor Ariza trade. The Lakers were one and — as with all things Lakers — were the most talked about.

But the Lakers were never going to pull off that trade because the Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, didn’t want it to happen, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Sarver — a very hands-on owner when it comes to basketball decisions — is probably still stung by buying out Tyson Chandler and watching him go to the Lakers and dramatically helping their defense (the Lakers are allowing less than a point per possession when Chandler is on the court). And certainly spiting the Lakers will play well with the Suns’ fan base.

However, the best franchises put aside petty thinking and do what’s best for them. If the Lakers had made the best offer (and we don’t know if it was) then take it. If it makes the Lakers better this season, or even the next few seasons, so what? If you’re the Suns, you’re in a rebuilding process and should be focused on the long term.

That said, the Laker trade was always going to be complicated and hard to pull off, LeBron James wasn’t going to be able to call up Suns GM James Jones and make this one happen. The Lakers wanted to land Ariza but also wanted to send out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and KCP doesn’t fit with what the Suns wanted (a point guard and young players or draft assets). That means a third team was going to have to get involved, maybe Philadelphia, and possibly even a fourth. The Lakers were not going to trade any of their four core young players, making this trade even harder.

What the Suns got in the trade with Washington was what they wanted: A point guard (Austin Rivers, who is not all that good, as evidenced by his 7.1 PER this season, but is better than anyone the Suns have) and a young wing in Kelly Oubre who fits on the timeline of Devin Booker and the other young Suns. Phoenix did reasonably well in this trade.

Could they have done better? Doesn’t matter, if the owner is shooting down an idea then it’s dead. That’s his prerogative.