The NBA hasn’t had a clear and enduring star-for-star trade in nearly two decades.
According to sources, New York offered the New Orleans Pelicans a package centered around Porzingis in exchange for forward Anthony Davis.
Kristaps Porzingis would’ve given the Pelicans a premier young talent to replace Davis, who had requested a trade and was a season-and-a-half from free agency. That should have at least intrigued New Orleans.
But the situation was more complicated for several reasons:
1. I’m not sure Pelicans owner Gayle Benson would have approved trading Davis at that point. Then-general manager Dell Demps appeared to be on the outs, and he got fired later in the season. She might have preferred letting New Orleans’ next lead executive (which turned out to be David Griffin) handle the Davis trade.
Waiting until the offseason also carried another potential advantage – letting the Celtics enter the race. With Kyrie Irving already acquired as a designated rookie via trade, Boston couldn’t land another in Davis last season. Waiting on the Celtics didn’t work out. They watched Irving leave for the Nets and didn’t push strongly for Davis. But the upside was there.
2. Davis had a far higher salary than Porzingis. It wouldn’t have worked as a straight-up trade. I bet the Knicks proposed using negative-value players Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee to make salaries match. In fact, New York sent those two with Porzingis to the Mavericks in the actual trade made.
3. Porzingis was set to enter restricted free agency last summer and was coming off a torn ACL. He had also made noise about accepting his qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020, which would have been a disaster for New Orleans. Even in their best-case scenario, the Pelicans would have had to give a huge long-term contract to a player coming off significant injury. Dallas did that, and the jury remains out.
New Orleans came out ahead, getting a massive haul from the Lakers for Davis. It’s possible Porzingis will turn out better than anyone the Pelicans got from Los Angeles. But I’d rather roll the dice on the great package of players (Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart) and picks New Orleans got, especially without having to take Hardaway’s and Lee’s burdensome contracts.
Still, it’s hard not to think about how fun a Porzingis-Zion Williamson combination would have been… when healthy.
If they had Davis, the Knicks would be fighting to persuade him to re-sign next summer. Their team would look completely different around him. But I wouldn’t have much faith in New York management providing an alluring supporting cast.
The Knicks could have tried to trade for Davis last summer. They appeared barely interested. When they were more interested earlier, New Orleans wasn’t.
This just never lined up right.