Skip to main content

Pelicans' Future Depends on the Handling of Anthony Davis's Trade Request

Now that Anthony Davis has officially informed New Orleans that he wishes to be moved, the Pelicans are on the clock. How they deal with Davis's trade request will likely make or break the future of the franchise.

Anthony Davis—or people close to Anthony Davis—want Davis in Los Angeles, with the Lakers. That’s the only conclusion you can draw from Davis’s agent, Rich Paul, telling ESPN on Monday that Davis wants a trade.

Davis wants out of New Orleans? The painless way to do it would have been to simply wait until July and formally reject the Pelicans' supermax extension offer. It‘s a trade demand, without the mess that comes with making one; if the Pelicans know Davis doesn’t want the richest contract in NBA history, they would have to move him before losing him in 2020, for nothing.

Davis didn’t do that. He went public. He slipped on the black hat and told the Pelicans he was done with them. Thanks for the 6 ½ years, New Orleans, but I’m ready to take my talents elsewhere. Manhattan Beach, maybe.

New Orleans expected this. Maybe not in late January, less than two weeks before the Feb. 7 trade deadline, but the Pelicans expected it. When Davis linked up with Paul—the agent for LeBron James, who has specialized in recent years at steering his other clients toward teams LeBron plays on—they knew Davis’s days there were numbered. It’s why last summer several people in the organization tried to steer Davis away from Paul, two sources close to the situation told The Crossover.

They knew this was coming. And now it’s here.

MAHONEY: Anthony Davis Deserves the Lakers' Best Trade Offer

It’s impossible to overstate how significant this moment is for the franchise. This is Herschel Walker. What Anthony Davis brings back in a trade should be the most significant trade package in NBA history. This is a 25-year old big man averaging nearly 30 points per game. This is a 6’10”, 253-pound monster who pulls down 13 rebounds per game. This is a two-time All-NBA, three-time All-Defensive team player who can singularly change a game on both ends in ways few players can.

The Pelicans can’t screw this up.

The right move could put New Orleans back on track, quickly. In 1989, the Cowboys flipped Walker to Minnesota in an 18-player, multiple draft pick deal. The Cowboys used the picks to draft Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson and Russell Maryland, core players on the 90’s Super Bowl-winning teams. Davis isn’t just a Walker-type player—he’s better.

The wrong move could keep the Pelicans on a path to mediocrity—and put eventual relocation on the table. Seattle is out there, lurking.

The Pelicans know Davis—or people close to Davis—want Los Angeles, but here’s the thing—it would be executive malpractice to send him there before the trade deadline. A refresher, in case you are unfamiliar with Boston’s books: The Celtics cannot trade for Davis while Kyrie Irving is on the roster due to a rule that prevents two players who signed Designated Player Extensions with the teams that drafted them on the roster at the same time. On July 1, when Irving is expected to opt out of his contract, that rule no longer applies.

The Lakers could make a great offer. No one is untouchable. Brandon Ingram? He’s in. Kyle Kuzma? You got him. Lonzo Ball? How about stock in Big Baller Brand, too? Toss in a couple of draft picks and you have yourself a nice rebuilding package.

And maybe the Pelicans want that. But making a franchise-altering deal with a top suitor on the sidelines, all to expedite an end is flat bonkers. The best young player the Celtics can offer (Jayson Tatum) has a higher upside than any of the Lakers' prospects and Boston’s collection of picks (Sacramento’s this year, and a Memphis protected pick that could be really appealing when it eventually transfers, among others) could hasten a rebuild.

Scroll to Continue

SI Recommends

What’s the downside of waiting, anyway? Three months of discomfort? Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters Monday that Davis plans to play out the rest of the season, and boy won’t that be uncomfortable. But are an awkward 30-plus games worth getting the full field involved in the bidding process? Is watching Davis get booed in front of sparse home crowds worth tolerating to see how the lottery shakes out?

Besides—who says Dell Demps should be pulling the trigger on this deal anyway? Is anyone sure Demps is going to be the Pelicans' GM in a few months? They are in this position largely because the first-round picks they have made in recent years—when they have not shipped those picks out in deals—didn’t pan out, any cap flexibility has been wiped out and trades have yielded mixed results. Demps was on the hot seat last season, when the team went on run at the end of it, hammered the Blazers in the first round and salvaged Demps’s job. This was a year after a 34-48 finish to the ’16-17 season nearly ended Demps’s run.

NADKARNI: Is Anthony Davis Trying to Force His Way to the Lakers?

Mickey Loomis—the Pelicans vice president who doubles as the Saints GM—has been demanding success, and this season hasn’t brought any. You would be hard pressed to find many in the NBA who expect Demps to survive it. 

If Demps isn’t the guy, shouldn’t New Orleans leave the Davis decision to whoever is? There’s some appeal to the Pelicans job. It’s a rebuild with an asset in Davis to jumpstart it. And an opportunity to pit two historic, big-market franchises against each other. 

In a statement, the team said it would not be rushed into honoring Davis’s trade request.

“This past weekend, Anthony Davis’ representatives informed us that Anthony does not wish to sign a contract extension with our team and subsequently has requested a trade,” the team said. “Although we are disappointed in this decision, our organization’s top priority is to bring an NBA championship to our city and fans and build our team for long-term success.

“Relative to specific talks of a trade, we will do this on our terms and our timeline. One that makes the most sense for our team and it will not be dictated by those outside of our organization. We have also requested the League to strictly enforce the tampering rules associated with this transaction.”

The Lakers will make a big offer, but does anyone think that offer will disappear after the deadline? Come on. The Lakers will still be there, and with Boston in the mix, they may be forced to squeeze even more into the offer. And the Celtics are desperate to land Davis. Boston dipped its toe in the Kawhi Leonard pool last summer, but pulled back without putting any of its top talent on the table. With Davis, they are prepared to go all-in, armed with enough assets to trump any offer out there. 

SHAPIRO: Examining the Trade Market for the NBA's Most Expensive Players

Will they offer Tatum in a Davis package without assurances Davis will re-sign there? No, but Boston has a unique backchannel: Irving. Irving and Davis maintain a close friendship: “Kyrie and Anthony Davis are boys,” former NBA forward and NBC Sports Boston analyst Brian Scalabrine told The Crossover NBA podcast. “I think they text like every day.” Irving would be a powerful recruiter next summer.

(A brief aside to address the, ‘Well what if Kyrie isn’t there next summer’ crowd. I can’t say with certainty that Irving is going to re-sign with the Celtics in the offseason. He’s said he is, publicly, and he’s doubled down on it, but there are a startling number of NBA-types with conflicting opinions. There are some who swear he’s going to New York, perhaps with Durant. There are others that foresee an Irving/Jimmy Butler pairing in Brooklyn. Irving’s reconciliation with LeBron has fueled rumors of a reunion with his former teammate in Los Angeles. What I do know is that the Celtics are confident Irving will be back, and won’t blink at offering a five-year, max-level extension to ensure it. Don’t dismiss the importance of that to a player who has had three knee surgeries in recent years.)

Davis’s trade request was the grenade rattling around the Pelicans' front office, and it finally exploded. The silver lining is Davis’s trade value will help them rise from the rubble, provided it’s handled properly. New Orleans can screw this up by trading Davis after the deadline. They almost certainly will if they make any move before it.