Celtics loom large as Anthony Davis sweepstakes head to offseason

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The Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving 0 games after his trade request. The Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard 0 games after his trade request. The Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler 13 (nearly unbearable) games after his trade request.

The Pelicans will keep Anthony Davis at least 32 games after his trade request.

By holding Davis past today’s trade deadline, New Orleans set the stage for an unprecedented firestorm. One of the NBA’s biggest stars is caught in limbo. Opposing teams – Celtics now at the front of the line – will continue to jockey for him. Rumors will fly.

And it can’t be resolved for months.

The Pelicans didn’t create this chaos alone. Unlike Irving, Leonard and Butler, Davis requested his trade during the season. Cleveland and San Antonio spent a while soliciting and evaluating trades in the seclusion of the offseason. (Minnesota had the same option but stubbornly chose not to.) The Collective Bargaining Agreement effectively prevented Boston from trading for Davis now. Many circumstances contributed to this holding pattern.

Yet, we’re in it now primarily because of one factor – the Celtics.

Interest in the elite center won’t diminish. His desire to leave the Pelicans likely won’t change. But the Celtics are powerful enough to shift the landscape significantly.

Boston couldn’t realistically trade for Davis now, because both he and Kyrie Irving are designated rookie scale players, and teams can acquire only one via trade. But Irving’s contract status will change this offseason, allowing a trade for Davis then.

The Celtics are loaded with assets to send New Orleans. The big prize: Jayson Tatum. Boston has reportedly refused to directly dangle him while still making clear anyone besides Irving will be discussable. Will the Celtics actually include Tatum in an offer for Davis? They surely explained their intent to the Pelicans by now. It was on New Orleans to judge Boston’s specific words and tone. Any promise would be non-binding, anyway. The Celtics can’t officially trade for Davis until July 6.

In the meantime, everyone must handle this waiting period.

The Pelicans must determine how to manage Davis. They made him a healthy scratch the last couple games and are reportedly considering shutting him down the rest of the season. The five games New Orleans has already played after Davis’ trade request have been filled with awkwardness. But he reportedly wants to play, and it could get contentious. Sitting Davis the rest of the season would be a huge shame. He’s in the midst of an excellent season. I understand protecting an asset and tanking for a higher pick, but keeping such a talented player off the court that long would be a black eye for the NBA.

The Lakers must regroup in their playoff push. Trade rumors have seemingly disrupted chemistry, but this team is still capable of a deep run. LeBron James is that good, even without his desired co-star.

Boston must try to win over Davis. The timing of his trade request, when the Celtics effectively couldn’t deal for him, was a transparent attempt to avoid them. Davis’ camp furthered the push by leaking he was concerned about Kyrie Irving leaving Boston. The coup de grace: Davis’ father saying he’d never want his son on the Celtics after how they treated Isaiah Thomas.

Davis must convey what he wants. He won’t sign an extension anywhere, which means his team must ride it out into 2020 unrestricted free agency with him. That gives Davis leverage. He can say where he would and wouldn’t re-sign, incentivizing and de-incentivizing certain teams to trade for him. Anyone can still make New Orleans the best offer, but that’s extremely risky without Davis on board.

Once the season ends, everyone will be off to the races.

A wildcard team could try to trade for Davis, a la the Thunder with Paul George and Raptors with Kawhi Leonard. But Davis’ value is diminished by no longer being available for the 2019 playoffs.

A team will win the lottery and could use the No. 1 pick and right to draft Zion Williamson as trade bait for Davis. It’d have to be the right team winning the lottery, but that’s a head-turning asset.

The Knicks will chase Kevin Durant and Irving and then could try to trade for Davis. Or New York could just try to trade for Davis without having superstars already in place.

The Lakers could push again for Davis, but their offer wasn’t good enough now. How will it improve in the summer? With LeBron’s prime years dwindling, they might not be able to afford to wait for Davis’ free agency after yet another season. They’ll likely prioritize pursuing other stars.

And the Celtics will make their offer clear. No more hedging about what they might do. It’ll be time to put their cards on the table.

That’s when we’ll finally see real action.