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Let the Anthony Davis trade sweepstakes begin! Again!
David Griffin, the New Orleans Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations, hasn’t ruled out mending the relationship with his inherited franchise superstar. As he told ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe after the lottery:
“We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George. We can hold onto [Davis] and let him see what we really are. [Winning the lottery] changes how quickly he can buy into it. It gets us closer. Every day, maybe he believes a little more. As much as elite talent likes to play with elite talent, I can’t imagine any elite player in his prime looking at our situation and saying to himself, ‘There’s a better grouping to play for’ than ours.”
This stance feels like a negotiating ploy. Davis’ trade request incited a half-season nightmare for the Pelicans, and without the acquisition of yet another superstar, his exit seems to be a matter of fact. He still wanted out as of Tuesday night, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.
Expect the rumor mill to ramp up, like, right now.
With the NBA‘s draft order set, the Pelicans have their most accurate view of Davis’ trade market. And while the list of prospective suitors hasn’t changed much—if at all—for the time being, it has never been easier to discern the strongest possible offers.
Some potential admirers took a hit. The New York Knicks will need to empty their asset clip after missing out on Zion Williamson. Others saw the strength of their pitches get a boost, even if by default. The Los Angeles Lakers’ package looks way better with the No. 4 pick, and the Boston Celtics picked up another flashy chip with the Memphis Grizzlies’ first-round obligation rolling over to next year.
Welcome to Anthony Davis Trade Talk 2.0.
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Boston Celtics Receive: Anthony Davis
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, No. 20 pick, 2020 first-round pick (via Memphis; top-six protection in 2020; unprotected in 2021)
When It Happens: Technically, whenever.
Boston’s Davis chase received two boons during the lottery: New York didn’t get Zion Williamson, and Memphis’ first-round obligation not only rolled over to 2020, but the Grizzlies also ended up in a spot, at No. 2, that should coax them into starting over and ascribing more value to next year’s top-six protection and 2021’s unprotected status.
This more than offsets the Lakers climbing to the No. 4 spot. The Celtics can still blow every other potential Davis package out of the water. Williamson’s fate was the only threat to their bargaining throne, and that pitfall is now neutralized courtesy of the Pelicans themselves.
Whether the Celtics will have the drive to go all-out for Davis is a separate matter. Cashing in all of their best trade chips doesn’t make as much sense if Kyrie Irving (player option) bolts. As former Atlanta Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck on The Full 48 podcast:
“If [Gordon] Hayward was better, and you had [Al] Horford, then you might be able to say ‘Anthony Davis, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, trade our young our pieces, we’re going to be the best team in the East, even [after] giving up all these young pieces without having Kyrie. But that just doesn’t seem to be a realistic path toward contention.
“One thing we know about the Boston Celtics: They are clearly focused on not just contention, but winning championships. And so the most realistic path to a championship is two great players in their prime, two top-10 players in their prime. It just doesn’t seem like, short of Kyrie, that there’s a path for Boston to do that and realistically acquire Anthony Davis.”
That line of thinking forces the Celtics to choose between two scenarios: Do they go after Davis to guarantee Irving’s return? Or do they wait for Irving’s free agency to play out before surrendering the moon for Davis, who will hit the open market in 2020?
Team president Danny Ainge may have already made his decision. He wants Irving back in Boston and believes acquiring Davis will earn the point guard’s signature, according to The Athletic’s Frank Isola.
Striking that early gives the Celtics an advantage. Both the Knicks and Lakers will prefer to use their cap space—more on this in a second—before landing Davis. They can reach an agreement with the Pelicans in principle and carry on with their offseason business, but an immediate pitch from the Celtics strong-arms them into at least upping their antes.
Exact parameters of any AD-to-Boston deal are up in the air. The Celtics won’t want to give up both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Tossing in this year’s Sacramento Kings pick (No. 14) and Robert Williams might be enough to yank Brown from the equation, but it’ll take a miracle for Boston to push this through without Tatum.
The Pelicans should be happy with this return. They’re getting two cornerstone prospects, a gamer in Marcus Smart and two additional first-round picks—one of which may wind up being a top-seven selection in 2020 or even better than that in 2021. With Williamson and Jrue Holiday already in tow, New Orleans won’t have to worry about bottoming out in the post-Davis era.
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Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Anthony Davis
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, No. 4 pick (drafted by Lakers), 2022 first-round pick
When It Happens: After the Lakers use their cap space.
One unintended consequence of the Lakers snagging the fourth pick: They can no longer carve out max cap space and float Reggie Bullock’s free-agent hold without cutting salary. That’s a fairly big development.
But it doesn’t change the Lakers’ Davis blueprint. If they want to surround LeBron James with two stars, they’ll need to use their cap space before officially coming to terms with the Pelicans.
This presumes New Orleans is willing to talk turkey with Los Angeles. That’s not a given. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said the Pelicans aren’t interested in breaking bread with the Lakers. The first round of negotiations between these two teams was fraught with leaks, accusations of tampering and potential sabotage.
New Orleans still bears those scars. So does Los Angeles. And as Lowe wrote, “Some in the league wonder if the Pelicans’ ownership and the New Orleans Saints officials who once had so much influence might still hold some grudge against the Lakers.”
Introducing the No. 4 pick into the equation should help ease concerns for both sides. The Pelicans would have the chance to find another high-end rookie to pair with Williamson—Jarrett Culver, De’Andre Hunter, Darius Garland, etc.—which makes the Lakers’ offer look a whole lot better.
Los Angeles’ kiddies remain a sticking point. Lonzo Ball is working his way back from a left ankle injury and has now missed 65 games through two seasons—nearly 40 percent of his career. Brandon Ingram has racked up 53 absences over the past two years and is recovering from deep venous thrombosis. Kyle Kuzma made defensive strides as a sophomore, but he’s a suboptimal option against quicker wings and when tracking guards in space.
Still, the Lakers’ youngsters get an unfairly bad rap. Ingram went supernova in the weeks leading up to his season-ending condition, Ball’s vision and defense continue to tantalize, and Kyle Kuzma is a ready-made scorer who will shoot better from three.
Sending the Pelicans a 2022 first-rounder beefs up this offer even further. Failing that, the Lakers must look for a third-team facilitator.
Maybe the Indiana Pacers would give up Domantas Sabonis and the No. 18 pick for Ingram. Perhaps the Suns would be willing to part with the No. 6 pick or Mikal Bridges and De’Anthony Melton for Ball. The Chicago Bulls need a facilitator and are outside Garland and Ja Morant territory in the draft. They could send Kris Dunn and No. 7 to New Orleans in exchange for getting Ball from Los Angeles.
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New York Knicks Receive: Anthony Davis
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Damyean Dotson, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., No. 3 pick (drafted by Knicks), 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick (via Dallas)
When It Happens: After the Knicks sign two stars in free agency.
The order of operation is everything to the Knicks if they want to pair Davis with two star free agents.
New York projects to have just shy of $70 million in cap space if it keeps Damyean Dotson (non-guaranteed) and Allonzo Trier (team option). That’s enough to offer two 30 percent maxes but about $1 million short of signing Kevin Durant (player option) and someone from the Irving tier.
Making up the difference wouldn’t be hard. Trading Trier or Frank Ntilikina for cheaper players or straight cap space would get the job done. New York can also hope Durant or its other star signing will be willing to take a slight haircut.
Acquiring Davis after landing two stars would dictate the Knicks gut their roster. They need to send out around $21.6 million in salary to make the money work. Their No. 3 pick will be worth $7.8 million in outgoing value 30 days after he signs his rookie-scale deal. They’ll have to send out Dotson, Ntilikina or Trier and Dennis Smith Jr. to come up with the rest.
That’s…a lot. And it won’t be enough. The Pelicans will want first-round picks. Plural. They’ll also want Mitchell Robinson. They have a soft spot for both him and Kevin Knox, according to the New York Post‘s Marc Berman.
The Knicks must fight to keep Mitchell in this scenario. Their outgoing body count is high enough without him, and his $1.6 million cap hit wouldn’t do anything to move the salary-aggregation needle. Plus, New Orleans would be getting more than if New York used room to absorb some of Davis’ $27.1 million.
Many will call this a no-brainer for the Knicks. It’s not. They’d be left with Davis, Durant, another star (let’s say Irving), Robinson and maybe Trier or a cheaper player they acquired to cut costs leading into free agency.
Three superstars is three superstars, but that’s not much of an asset base. Even if the Knicks struck gold using their room exception and by convincing ring-chasers to sign minimum deals, they’d still profile as one of the NBA’s shallowest squads.
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New York Knicks Receive: Anthony Davis
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., No. 3 pick (drafted by Knicks), 2020 first-round pick (top-two protection), 2020 second-round pick (via Charlotte), 2021 first-round pick (via Dallas), 2023 first-round pick (top-10 protection, via Dallas)
When It Happens: Before the Knicks spend all their cap space.
Using cap space as part of a Davis trade would be the more palatable option if the Knicks are looking to preserve the number of incumbent players they hand over.
The catch-22: They cannot complete a lopsided deal with the Pelicans and sign two stars. Swallowing a chunk of Davis’ salary would only leave them with room for one.
That might not matter. The Knicks may prefer the luxury of depth or just be unable to poach two big names in free agency. Davis, another star and some pieces to spare would be a nucleus to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.
Hammering out a package for the Pelicans is difficult when the Knicks aren’t defaulting to everything.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks told Berman before the lottery that “an equitable offer for Davis is the rights to Williamson, Knox, Frank Ntilikina and Dallas’ two future first-round picks.” The Knicks have to make up for Williamson’s absence.
Subbing in Smith for Ntilikina would be a good place to start. He has the much higher ceiling and a puncher’s chance of learning how to run a half-court offense. New York can stock the rest of the package with picks.
Throwing in three first-rounders on top of the No. 3 selection would get New Orleans’ attention. Including Robinson would be worth removing one of them from the table.
Without baking in any extra salary, though, the Knicks need about $10.4 million of wiggle room to green-light this deal if they wait until after their rookie signs his contract to pull the trigger. That’s nothing. It would still leave them with more than enough spending power to sign whichever max star they can get their hands on and a couple of supporting cast mates to boot.
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Toronto Raptors Receive: Anthony Davis
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, 2021 first-round pick (top-three protection)
When It Happens: On or after draft night if and when Kawhi Leonard (player option) commits to staying in Toronto.
The Raptors are a tantalizing destination for Davis insofar as they’re prepared to enter the running. They might not be.
Kawhi Leonard needs to stick around for them to make this gamble, and his return is far from a given. Few people claim to know what he’s kind of, sort of, and the ones who do aren’t shy about predicting a hookup with the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I still think he’s coming to L.A.,” ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne said on ESPN Los Angeles (via NBA writer Tomer Azarly). “I think the Clippers are in the driver’s seat. I’ve thought that for a long time just because he seems to be a guy who wants his own team.”
Feelings can change. More importantly, bird’s eye views can be wrong. Leonard just hit the biggest shot in Raptors franchise history—and one of the NBA’s clutchest game-winners of all time. Toronto is his team, and he’s four wins from an NBA Finals appearance.
Basketball situations don’t get much better. The Raptors would still promise one of the best winning situations even if they flame out against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Short of teaming up with another superstar on the Clippers, he won’t find a more direct line to a title. And even that might be overstating L.A.’s appeal.
Going after Davis is a sales pitch to Leonard by itself. The Raptors can’t fork over the moon without a guarantee he’ll return, but the two parties can reach a mutual understanding: Get Davis, and Leonard stays put. Or Leonard could re-sign independent of Toronto’s interest in Davis. The Raptors are that good, and team president Masai Ujiri can view a potential Davis trade as a bonus pursuit of Leonard’s commitment.
Not many suitors can beat this package. The Raptors themselves will be hesitant to pull the trigger if they wind up winning the title. Pascal Siakam is a Most Improved Player favorite and a bona fide building block.
It will not be a surprise if he entrenches himself in the top-25 discussion over the next half-decade. He can defend nearly every position, and he’s more than a third wheel on offense. He can lead fast breaks, jump-start pick-and-rolls and even create his own shot in the half court without the use of screens.
Davis is still better. Siakam would be worth dealing if it means keeping him long-term. A Leonard-Davis duo, with Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol (player option), would make Toronto the Eastern Conference alpha next season—and perhaps the title favorite if Durant leaves the Golden State Warriors.
Neither the Knicks nor Lakers will beat this offer. The Celtics can, but Siakam is the best individual player the Pelicans can receive ahead of next season. Jayson Tatum has the tools to eventually leapfrog him. For now, Siakam has the advantage.
Getting OG Anunoby, who has two years left on his rookie-scale contract, and Serge Ibaka’s expiring deal would be a win for the Pelicans. This return would allow them to rebuild without bottoming out. Anunoby, Ibaka, Siakam, Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore will not win any championships, but New Orleans would remain competitive and retain its lean cap sheet for free agency.