I feel like there is a better chance I could predict the outcome of the OSCAR for Best Documentary Short Subject than I do what will happen with Anthony Davis’ trade demand. And I have seen zero of those films.
There are two reasons that predicting the Davis situation is difficult:
1) What do the Pelicans want back? There’s been kind of an assumption New Orleans will go the rebuild path and seek picks and young players — and that would be the prudent basketball move. However, smaller market teams often don’t want to go all the way down to a 17-win season to chase draft picks, feeling it hurts them too much with a smaller fan base already. Indiana thought this, then nailed a trade of Paul George getting Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis back. Will the Pelicans be looking to rebuild or for guys who can keep them viable now (or, to walk the thin line of trying to do both)? That’s an ownership call, which brings us to issue No. 2…
2) Who is making the call on this trade? Ultimately trades of this magnitude have to be approved by the owner, and nobody has a good read on new owner Gayle Benson. Will she just want to get this circus over and trade Davis right away? Also, who is she trusting to make this call? Micky Loomis? Dell Demps? Will the Pelicans clean house and get a new front office? Nobody is really sure.
Those rather massive caveats aside, here are my rankings of the suitors.
1. Los Angeles Lakers. They have this top spot until 3 PM Eastern on Feb. 7 — the trade deadline. Once it passes they fall behind Boston, and potentially the Knicks (depending on the draft lottery). However, as of right now Davis’ agent Rich Paul has not-so-subtly set things up so the Lakers have a first shot at landing Davis (also Paul can — and likely will soon — pull out the “Davis will only re-sign with the Lakers” card).
The Lakers’ trade offer is simple: Anyone and anything you want not named LeBron James. Despite what some Lakers fans think, there is no sure-fire All-Star player in that young Laker core so the trade will have to be all of them: Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, maybe Josh Hart, a first-round pick or two, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to balance out the salaries. The question is do the Pelicans like that offer enough to move on it now? Especially since New Orleans knows the Lakers are all in and that same offer will be on the table in July. Sources have told me the Pelicans plan to be patient in making a decision, which is bad for the Lakers and good for the next team on this list.
2. Boston Celtics. After the trade deadline passes, they move to the front of the line because come July 1 they can make the best offer (Boston can’t trade for Davis right now because it has Kyrie Irving on the roster and teams cannot trade for two max-level contract extension players at the same time). The Celtics have the best young player on the board in these offers, the sure-fire future All-Star in Jayson Tatum (who has plateaued this season when forced to take a smaller role, but given the rock again with another team would thrive). The Celtics also have Jaylen Brown. And they have better picks to offer than the Lakers: The Kings first rounder this year (No. 1 protected, in which case it’s the Sixers’ pick), the Clippers pick (lottery protected, that may or may not convey this year), and the best pick on the board, the Memphis pick (top eight protected this year, top six next year, unprotected in 2021). The Celtics could pick whoever the Pelicans want with those slots and trade them after July 1 (or trade the picks if they do not convey this year).
Yes, Davis has said Boston is not his preferred landing spot and is expected to soon say he would not re-sign anywhere but Los Angeles. Danny Ainge would call his bluff. Get Davis and Irving certainly will re-sign, and with those two (and maybe Tatum, the Celtics wouldn’t want to give him up but may have no choice) the Celtics are contenders for years. They will bet AD will not walk away from that.
After those two, the quality of offers drops off.
3. New York Knicks. Their offer is not that interesting right now, but it could be fascinating come May. There’s just a lot of “ifs.” If Kristaps Porzingis comes back in the final weeks of the season, plays fairly well and shows he will bounce back from the ACL tear that has sidelined him. If the Knicks land a very high pick in the draft (No. 1 and the rights to Zion Willamson, or even top three if the Pelicans love another player). If the Knicks a back-channel nod that Kevin Durant will come if they get Davis. Again, a lot of ifs. But if all of that comes together then the Knicks can pull the trigger on an interesting offer and likely re-sign Davis.
4. Winner of the NBA Draft Lottery. Consider this the Zion Williamson card. Most of the teams that might win the lottery will keep the pick and take Williamson (who will likely spend at least seven or eight seasons with the team, as Davis did with the Pelicans), but if the Knicks or Bulls win the lottery they will at least consider making an offer with that pick and another star (Porzingis for the Knicks, Lauri Markkanen for the Bulls). It adds a little intrigue to the lottery night.
5. Toronto Raptors. Everyone loves Pascal Siakam this season, he is a frontrunner for Most Improved Player for a reason, and he could help finally propel the Raptors to the NBA Finals. But love him enough to trade Davis for him? Probably not. A package of Siakam, OG Anunoby, Jonas Valanciunas, and picks likely will not get it done, but it’s at least an offer the Pelicans would consider.
6. Houston Rockets. Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey is in win now mode, desperate to improve his team, and a guy who likes to make deals, so we can’t leave Houston off the list. The problem is, the Rockets are already in the tax and without players the Pelicans would want in a straight-up trade. This would need to be a three-team trade with Philly (Jimmy Butler to the Rockets, Davis to the Sixers?) or Miami or some other party. It would be very complex and may not interest the Pelicans, but expect Morey to try.
7. Philadelphia 76ers. Philly isn’t trading Joel Embiid, and the Pelicans are not going to do a Butler for Davis swap because Butler is a free agent this summer and would only be in New Orleans long enough to have a fried oyster po’ boy. How about Ben Simmons (and filler) for Davis — that’s very interesting on paper. However, both players are Rich Paul clients and he is working to get AD out of New Orleans, he doesn’t want another star client on that team. Hard to imagine that coming together.
8. Brooklyn Nets. It’s probably not enough, but Brooklyn could call up with an offer of Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, DeMarre Carroll and a first-round pick. With D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis the Nets would make a playoff push this season. Could they re-sign Davis? Probably not and they may have to flip him again this summer, but it’s worth watching.
9. Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are rumored to be offering anyone on their roster outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo for Davis. A trade would have to look something like Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon, Donte DiVincenzo, D.J. Wilson, Thon Maker, Sterling Brown and Christian Wood for Davis. Not sure that works for either team, the Bucks would have Davis and Antetokounmpo but almost literally nothing else. And for the Pelicans, do they want a bunch of players supposed to go around the Greek Freak but not really made to play on their own?
10. Portland Trail Blazers. In theory the two sides could do a C.J. McCollum trade for Davis, giving the Blazers a rental to chase a ring with Damian Lillard, and the Pelicans would not bottom out with McCollum. However, the buzz is Portland is not going down this road, and we don’t know what the Pelicans want back in a deal.
It’s kind of the same thing with Denver: It’s a fun thought exercise to put together a trade package around Jamal Murray, but the deal would almost certainly never get done.